When Lorenzo Neal saw his jersey framed and his name permanently plastered on the Bulldog Stadium wall, he knew the message he wanted people to receive when they saw his name: “I was a fighter.”
A Lemoore native playing for his hometown school Fresno State, Neal fought for smaller communities like the one he grew up in. He said his legacy is not only about him, but the people and fans that supported him.
After playing four years for the Fresno State football team from 1989 to 1992, Neal’s No. 22 jersey was retired on Saturday, Oct. 23, during the halftime of the homecoming game against Nevada.
“This is not necessarily about me,” Neal said. “This is about… other individuals that are coming from small communities. Whether it’s Corcoran, [Fresno] – doesn’t matter, Hanford, Lemoore, greatness is in each and every one of us.”
During his four years at Fresno State, Neal broke multiple top 10 records as a Bulldog running back. Neal is No. 8 in career pass receptions, No. 9 in rushing touchdowns and No. 10 in career rushing attempts.
He graduated from Fresno State and was a fourth round NFL Draft pick to the New Orleans Saints in 1993.
Neal finished his career playing 16 seasons in the NFL, which included stints with Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. After transitioning to fullback, Neal earned four Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro honorees.
He never took full credit for his accolades and he always shared the spotlight to those who supported him. A true team-player, Neal was speechless when he received the call from Fresno State Director of Athletics Terry Tumey announcing his jersey retirement.
Neal said after he told his family, he laid in bed reflecting on his life, living in the moment.
“When you’re in that moment… you don’t think about this ever happening. You’re just playing it for the love of the game,” Neal said. “And now, you know, I get the phone call. Terry and Fresno State saying ‘Hey, look this is what we want to do’ and it’s just that ‘oh wow!’ That moment.”
Being one of the rare Bulldog athletes to play multiple sports, Neal was an athletic player in both football and wrestling. He said it was one of the toughest times of his life, and it was physically draining.
He laughs about it now and thought he was “young and stupid playing both sports.” But he said he never regretted it. Neal cherished what he learned from former Fresno State coaches Jim Sweeney and Dennis DeLiddo.
DeLiddo personally asked Sweeney if Neal could wrestle, and after Sweeney agreed, Neal said wrestling made him a better football player.
It also helped his transition to fullback. Neal had experience in Fresno State as well, but after an ankle injury in his first couple years in the NFL, that’s when he fully embraced his role as a prominent, blocking fullback.
Neal received a Modern-Era nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021.
The fullback position suited Neal’s character because he said he didn’t care about how good he looked but how his team could win. It is a lesson, he said, he taught the current ‘Dogs players. No matter how good a player is, the future continues on and the game keeps going.
“To know that if I did my job, those guys have an opportunity to make a big play. Also, win a football game, and the bottom line that’s that I knew my job was: it’s about winning,” Neal said.
“This game is not about you.”
But that Saturday night with a packed homecoming stadium, the night was about Neal. He was surrounded by former teammates, current football staff, University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval and his family.
Neal becomes the seventh member of the football program to have his jersey retired, joining Derek Carr, David Carr, Kevin Sweeney, Trent Dilfer, Vince Petrucci, Dale Messer and Henry Ellard.