PHOENIX -- A dozen TV cameras sat on tripods. Six hundred kids sat cross-legged on the floor. A letter of intent sat on a desk one signature away from completion.
Everything at Kyrene de la Esperanza was ready to go for a signing extravaganza. Everything except the subject of this shindig -- Davonte Neal.
The principal, Cheryl Greene, explained to the children why they were patiently waiting on the ground.
"He wanted to make that announcement at Esperanza because we meant that much to him," she said.
Greene also told the kids what qualities are needed to be as successful as Neal, a former student there.
"To reach your dream you have to stay focused," she told them. "You have to stay committed."
After about 40 minutes, it became clear. Neal was a no-show.
Describing the attitude of the students sent back to class without meeting Neal, one student said, “We just did this all for nothing."
Another fifth-grader said, “They were kind of disappointed. Why didn't he show up? He was supposed to be here."
A third simply said, “This sucks.”
Neal won three state championships at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale. He caught 62 passes for 1,113 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was just as impressive on the ground, rushing for 1,317 yards and 14 TDs. He is a special teams threat. Last season he returned three kickoffs for TDs and two punt-return TDs. He won the Gatorade Player of the Year twice.
Every college in the country was hoping he would suit up for them. But, he narrowed that search down to four universities: Arizona, Notre Dame, Arkansas and North Carolina. Arizona and Notre Dame were the front runners.
“My apologizes for this morning."
That’s how Davonte Neal started an impromptu press conference several hours after the cafeteria cleared out. Neal finally showed up to pick the Fighting Irish. He signed the paperwork with just a few people in the room. The number of TV cameras had dwindled down to just three.
“It was a hard decision," Neal said. "My dad and I argued about it a lot.”
According to multiple sources, Neal was a no-show earlier because he was fighting with his father. Neal reportedly wanted to play for the Wildcats. However, his dad pushed for Notre Dame.
Davonte and his father said they couldn’t make it to the first event because of a family emergency from 2 a.m. They would not give any details.
Neal was very sorry.
"It did hurt me that I couldn’t be here for 600 kids," he said. "That’s a lot of kids to disappoint. I don’t want to disappoint any kids. That’s why I am sending out my apologies.”
After faxing the letter of intent to South Bend, Neal promised he would be back to personally apologize to the students.
So, why Notre Dame instead of Arizona? Neal said it comes down to the degree.
"I wanted to go to a school to get my degree and wanted to make sure I would graduate," he said. "Notre Dame has a high graduation rate, not only for students, but for African American athletes, as well.”
Getting an impressive degree from a big-time university, it was the lesson teachers were hoping to show the students at the start of the day.