If New England quarterback Tom Brady is taken down by safeties Keanu Neal or Brian Poole at any point during the Super Bowl, there’s a good chance he’ll feel it before seeing it.
In the NFC Conference Championship, former Gators Poole and Neal wreaked havoc on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, stalling their red-hot offense. The two combined for 13 tackles and a pair of highlight takedowns that got plenty of love on social media.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) January 22, 2017
The two rookies have been important cogs in the Atlanta Falcons’ season despite the opposite routes they took to join the team.
Different Paths, Same Destination
Neal is undoubtedly the more recognizable name of the two. The Falcons took him 17th overall in the most recent draft after he tormented the SEC for three years. He finished his Gator career with 146 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He’s lived up to his pedigree in his inaugural pro season, notching 106 tackles and five forced fumbles in 14 games.
Poole, on the other hand, is living a Cinderella-like story line. He went undrafted in the NFL despite solid numbers for the Gators from 2012-15. He recorded 120 tackles and six interceptions. Naturally, he doesn’t have great memories about the draft.
Brian Poole on Jim Rome: Called the NFL Draft a "bad day," said he kept getting calls from teams telling him to be patient & never picked.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) January 24, 2017
But it’s all in the past for the 5-foot-10 safety. With Atlanta, he’s started nine games and played in all of them and is about to set foot in the biggest one of them all.
Neal and Poole now make it 15 straight years with a Florida Gator on an NFL Super Bowl Roster, dating back to 2003 when offensive lineman Kenyatta Walker
and Lomas Brown helped Tampa Bay top Mo Collins and the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
But don’t forget about one of the most prominent Gators — the head coach! Falcons head coach Dan Quinn manned the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach positions from 2011-12. He helped recruit both Poole and Neal to Gainesville. Quinn recently gushed about how strong of a blitzer Poole has become.
Poole, Neal and the rest of the Falcons have until Feb.5 to get in the right state of mind for their game vs. the Patriots. Super Bowl LI is set to be a shootout with a record-high 53.5 O/U line set by Vegas. The Pats are an early 3-point favorite.