Local product Neutz enters 2012 season as University at Buffalo’s top receiver
Today, he’s the University at Buffalo’s No. 1 receiving option, replacing Marcus Rivers, who is looking for work at the next level. The role suits Neutz well, but don’t expect to hear him boasting about it.
“People tell me that I’m ‘the guy,’ but I don’t feel like I’m ‘the guy,’ because we have so many great receivers on this team,” said Neutz, a junior. “. …The biggest responsibility that I have is to lead by example and give my all at practice. So where people might call me ‘the guy,’ I don’t feel like I’m ‘the guy,’ but it means a lot to be considered that.”
With arguably the best hands on the team, Neutz emerged as a legitimate threat to opponents last year, catching 43 passes for 641 yards and four touchdowns, before missing the final three games with a wrist injury.
“When you only get 12 games to a season and you lose three of them, it’s a heart-breaker because you worked so hard and you missed 25 percent of your games, so I mean that’s a big percentage,” Neutz said.
Jeff Quinn, head football coach at UB, emphasized not only Neutz’s importance to the offense, but stressed that his conditioning has paid dividends.
“He’s more confident in his ability to time up the throws and the hits, make the big catches and stay on his feet, and pick up some yards after the catch,” Quinn said, referring to how Neutz’s offseason conditioning has helped. “He’s one of the best out there, so when you lose a guy like that – it’s tough. But he’s worked hard in the weight room and if you can find a way to make it translate to the football field, it’s a big help.”
“From that day [when I got hurt] on, I’ve been itching to get on the field, itching to play,” Neutz said. “And then you go through winter conditioning, then spring ball, and summer conditioning and just constant working, working, working for 12 games. I can’t wait for this season. I’ve trimmed down the weight a little bit, got in better shape; I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now.”
For Neutz, the road to becoming a focal point on a Division I football team is far from traditional.
Born and raised in Grand Island, N.Y., which is less than 15 miles from Buffalo, Neutz said he grew up watching a Bills team featuring the likes of Eric Moulds at wide receiver. His father told him about the Bills’ run to four straight Super Bowl appearances, pinpointing the importance of players such as Andre Reed.
Regardless, football took a backseat to volleyball.
“I never had any aspirations of playing football,” Neutz said. “I was a volleyball player and that’s what I wanted to be.”
Today, he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds – a stature that compares with most Olympic volleyball players. But one day, the switch flipped.
“I was at a volleyball tournament in high school and it was pouring rain out that day. There were like zero fans at the volleyball tournament and about 500 at the football game, so I was like, ‘This is the wrong sport for me,’” Neutz recalled. “Then I talked to the football coach and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to have a kid with your size and speed.’ After that, they gave me a few workouts and next thing you know, I had to tell the volleyball coach I was done. He wasn’t too happy, but it turned out to be a good decision.”
Neutz went on to become a three-year letter-winner for head coach Dean Santorio at Grand Island High School. In 2008, he recorded 51 receptions for 1,182 yards – a Western New York record – and 22 touchdowns, blazing a trail to the James Lofton Award as the top receiver in the region.
Freelance sportswriter Charles Roberts covers the NFL and University at Buffalo football program for MetroWNY.com. Reach him at CharlesHRoberts@yahoo.com or twitter.com/cHartleyRoberts.