Catching up with...
Monte Stratton didn’t want McClinton Neal on his track team. No other coach did, either.
But Stratton had scholarship money to burn, so he took a flier on a guy who, it turned out, could fly.
“I had seen his high school workouts, and in my opinion they were mediocre at best,” said Stratton, the former UTA coach who’s now at TCU. “I did not realize how much development he had in him.”
Perhaps UTA’s most prominent athlete ever, Neal became one of the nation’s top hurdlers in the early 1990s. Now 35, he’s acting and performing stand-up comedy on the West Coast, and his future there looks as bright as his track-and-field past.
“I’m in a time where a lot of things could go well,” Neal said recently from his Culver City, Calif., home. “But Hollywood one minute can show you the light, tell you you’re going to be the next big star, and the next minute shut you down.”
Neal has been on both sides of that.
College coaches overlooked him coming out of Dallas’ Roosevelt High School in 1986. Stratton remembers Neal as awkward, too thin for his tall frame, and the coach never tried to recruit him. Instead, Stratton awarded scholarship money to two junior college transfers who then failed to qualify academically. Neal’s high school coach convinced Stratton to use some of that money on Neal.
“At the time,” Stratton remembered, “I thought he’d be lucky to develop into someone who was competitive in the Southland Conference.”
He did. And then some.
Neal became UTA’s first six-time All-American and the 1990 NCAA national champion in the 400-meter hurdles. He still holds four school records. He ran the 400 hurdles in the 1992 Olympics, making him the only track alumnus to compete for the United States (several others have represented foreign nations).
“He was obviously a very rare individual to be a secret and then to blossom and bloom into a star,” Stratton said. “We should all be so lucky to have those kind of athletes in our program.”
These years later, Neal still runs. Just not on a track.
“I run down to the store every now and then,” he said. “I run my mouth, trying to make people laugh.”
As an actor, he’s best known for a co-starring role on the HBO series Arli$$ in 2001. He has been seen on General Hospital and in a national Mitsubishi commercial. He also is working with Tracy Morgan, the Saturday Night Live alumnus, who recently landed a major-network sitcom. Neal hopes to become one of the show’s writers.
That’s where his comedy would come in handy.
Neal’s résumé as a comic includes Black Entertainment Television’s Comic View in 2002, which garnered national exposure. He has performed in Sydney, Australia, and was the headline act at the USA Track and Field annual meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2000. His experiences in the sport serve as material for his routines, including 30 minutes on the Olympics.
One of Neal’s bits concerns his family buying cars and houses in anticipation of him winning the gold medal in ’92. When he didn’t, they didn’t have enough money to cover the bills.
“The funniest thing people can relate to is real-life experiences,” he said. “My act is just about my journey through my own life.”
His jokes are always good-natured. When he performed in Fontana, Calif., last October, his show was advertised as “gospel meets clean comedy live.”
Neal calls himself a “clean comic,” which means he’s not frequently a lounge or nightclub act. He more often makes his living doing corporate events.
And there’s this whole Tracy Morgan thing.
“I’m trying to start a second career, and I’m elated to be working with someone like Tracy,” Neal said. “In every business, to learn from an experienced person is good. For me, it’s just a matter of time and some blessing.”
— Danny Woodward