Leader Blues

Saturday, December 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Hello Neumann: Cabot senior tackles future

Cabot senior linebacker Spencer Neumann led the Panthers with 108 tackles in 2009. The team fell short in the 7A state semifnals, but Neumann will continue his football career as a member of the University of Central Arkansas Bears.

Neumann in uniform during this year’s game against Conway.

Leader sports editor

It pays off sooner or later.

The long practices twice a day in the heat pay off. The demanding offseason workouts pay off. The relentless demand for perfection pays off.

And for Cabot linebacker Spencer Neumann, payday has come.

Neumann is an all-state selection and The Leader defensive player of the year after leading the Panthers with 108 tackles this season. His three-year career as a starter ended prematurely, with a loss to Springdale Har-Ber in the 7A state semifinals, but Neumann’s career will continue after he earned a scholarship offer to play at Central Arkansas next year.

“I know I’m not that big,” said Neumann, 6-0, 203 pounds. “But everyone who plays at Cabot knows how hard it is and how much you have to work. As long as you do the right things and work, good things happen.”

A Cabot player doesn’t get far without a willingness to work, but coach Mike Malham said Neumann was a natural talent when he took the field as a sophomore.

“He was good-sized, a 190-pounder as a sophomore that ran good and was pretty smart,” Malham said. “He had all the tools.

When you’ve got the tools and you’re a pretty smart kid that picks things up, he was a pleasant surprise from the word go.”

Neumann said it was more than ability that made him into one of Cabot’s rare college products.

“I’ve never played for anyone else but it seems to me like you have to be exact,” Neumann said of Malham. “On offense, working with him at running back, you have to be exact on all your blocks and everything, your footwork. You have to be perfect. I think people can see that in our game.”

While he dabbled at running back this year, gaining 27 yards on eight carries, Neumann thrived as he always has at linebacker, where he added a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as Cabot allowed its opponents an average 13 points a game.

“I do like defense more than offense,” said Neumann, blaming his love of contact. “That has something to do with it. You get to deliver the hits instead of taking them.”

Neumann said he wasn’t always the hard-nosed athlete he is today.

“I know when I was a kid I just played basketball and I wasn’t that aggressive,” Neumann said. “In sixth grade I started football and I wasn’t aggressive then either, but just staying with it and being persistent, trying to work as hard as you can, that’s really helped.”

Somewhere between sixth grade and his sophomore year, Neumann blossomed as a defender. It didn’t hurt that he had a natural instinct for the game and the smarts to call defensive signals when the time came.

“He’s a very aggressive, athletic kid and he’s got a 3.8 grade-point average so he’s pretty smart too,” Malham said. “He knows where to be and he’s got the ability to get there.”

Neumann finished with more than 310 career tackles, making him Cabot’s all-time leader. While leaving his mark on the record books, Neumann also caught the notice of the Central Arkansas staff led by coach Clint Conque.

While admittedly undersized, Neumann said the Bears were still looking at him as a linebacker rather than converting him to safety.

“They run basically a 4-3 and one of the linebackers is kind of like a rover and he steps out of the box and is like another secondary guy,” Neumann said. “I can come in to the box too and that’s where they want me to be at.”

Whatever the position, Neumann knows his scholarship offer, which he has accepted, is a rarity for a Cabot player.

“Not too many people from Cabot, it seems like, they go anywhere,” Neumann said. “I don’t know what it is. I know we don’t have that much size around here and all those college coaches are looking at size and speed.”

“You better have an ‘S’ on your cape,” Malham said. “If you’re not a minimum of 6-2, 6-3 nowadays, with size that can move.

We just haven’t had a lot that fit in that mold.”

Instead, Cabot does its own molding with an offseason program Neumann said was one of the toughest in the state, followed by two-a-days during the warmer hours of August, from 6-10 a.m. and from 1-4 p.m.

But that’s life for a member of the Panthers, and Neumann wouldn’t trade his experiences. Especially now.

“It’s tough,” Neumann said. “But it’s definitely worth it.”