Proven championship coach comes to LakeBy ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
In coaching terms, Eric Neel would be considered a climber.
Neel won five state championships in six years at East Central High School and Wayne County. It didn’t take him long to jump to the college ranks at Darden State Community College. But after a year in Georgia, Neel came back to Mississippi and coached a year at Biloxi before spending a season at Baton Rouge Community College.
But when Neel was forced to move back to East Central Mississippi, he took a year off from coaching softball and was the defensive backs coach at Meridian High School.
So when the head softball job came open at Lake when Jason Williams stepped down to go into the insurance business, Neel jumped at the chance. The highly successful coach likes what he sees in Lake.
“We had an issue in my wife’s family and needed to get back home,” Neel said. “I was waiting for the right opportunity. I think I have found a diamond in the rough, there’s a lot of talent at Lake.”
Despite working at several schools, Neel thinks he has found a home.
“My wife is from Enterprise and we have been shocked by the community support,” Neel said. “I think it’s a lot like Clarkdale and Enterprise. I think once we get rolling, it’s going to be hard to get it stopped. I grew up in Lumberton and my father coached there for 20 years. I’m just excited to be at a place where everybody knows everybody else. They love their athletics at Lake, it’s very important to them.”
Neel takes over a softball program that has seen plenty of success in recent years and played for the Class 2A South State championship for the first time this past season in fast-pitch softball.
“I think we are going to build off the excitement of what they have done there already,” Neel said. “They are right on the verge of seeing over the cliff. I think I’m fortunate to see them over that cliff. We have been practicing for a week now and there is no doubt those kids work as hard as anybody. And they are very young and that shocked me as well.”
Neel said Lake will play in 10 scheduled doubleheaders in June and try to get the Lady Hornets to the next level.
“Summer for me, it’s learning names and faces and who can do what,” Neel said. “I have a way I like to put a puzzle together. One thing is for sure, we are going to start in the weight room on Monday and I think that’s an aspect that’s been missing. We will lift in June and the weight room will be open in July but it will not be mandatory. And we’ve got a lot of kids playing travel ball. It’s a big number for a small school. I think that’s the key”
Scott County athletics director Jeff Breland, who has a daughter on the team, is excited about Neel coming on board.
“We are extremely fortunate to get him,” Breland said. “He has been around a good bit but we think he is going to lay some roots. We wanted a proven winner and I think he has proven himself. He is a softball guru and a proven winner. He’s a big hire for us.”