- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On the tired, lonesome nights in which Anthony Neyer couldn’t find an empty couch to sleep on, he’d climb into his brand-new Nissan Altima, crawl into the backseat and curl up for a bit, all before dawn jostled him awake and began his routine anew.

This was the reality of chasing dreams for Neyer, at the time a quarterback hoping for bigger things at Pierce, a community college in suburban Los Angeles. Once a preferred walk-on buried on the depth chart at Southern California, Neyer left to pursue an opportunity elsewhere, not knowing that elsewhere would be a jaunt that measured 26.2 miles yet was a world away.

Still living in an apartment near his old campus, Neyer would wake early enough to make what could be a soul-crushing, two-hour hike up Interstate 10 and the 405 to the San Fernando Valley in time for 8 a.m. classes. Jamming an associate’s degree into one semester was daunting enough, but with football mixed in, Neyer was rarely free from any obligations until late in the night, at which point the trek home frequently became too much to bear.

Hope got him through. Perhaps it was because he was raised by a single mother, or because his faith turned him into a perpetual optimist, but Neyer found comfort in trusting that sacrifice led to success.

This past weekend, two and a half years after the most challenging semester of his collegiate career, that hard work became manifest in a tangible result. Despite never throwing a pass while playing major college football, Neyer was invited to try out for the Washington Redskins during their rookie mini-camp, the next step in a saga that had been perpetually filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

“Oh, yeah,” Neyer said, understanding how the opportunity could be perceived as nothing short of astonishing. “Hopefully, some more things — some good things — come of it.”

Chasing a dream

Neyer was a high school sophomore when he decided he loved football so much that he wanted to be a Division I quarterback. That epiphany came rife with problems; among them, Bermuda Dunes High School, two hours east of Los Angeles, was so small that it only sponsored an eight-man football team.

To rectify that, Neyer transferred to Xavier College Prep, a Jesuit high school that opened just up the road two years earlier. Because his parents divorced when he was young, and he moved frequently as a result, Neyer grew accustomed to change and the transition came natural.

“The minute he came in, everybody was talking about this guy who was super charismatic and super friendly,” said Shea Ferraro, a former classmate and one of Neyer’s closest friends. “It’s so seldom that you meet somebody who is the genuine article, and when everything is so positive, it’s like, ‘This cannot be who this person is.’ … He was just so positive and so kind that I was just like, ‘This is a pretty cool dude.’”

Around the same time, Neyer began receiving instruction from Steve Clarkson, a well-known Los Angeles-based quarterbacks coach who has worked with countless professional and college players. State regulations regarding athletic transfers prevented Neyer from playing football during his junior year, leaving him just one season to pursue his goal.

After his senior season ended, Neyer heard from USC, where he wouldn’t be offered a scholarship but instead a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on. He accepted that proposal, but after two years, Neyer understood his role would not change.

Begrudgingly, he looked to transfer, but his quest to play elsewhere was met with the same hesitation. Because he had only played a handful of games — in high school, nonetheless — Neyer needed to prove himself, leading to his decision to enroll at a community college.

One night, he struck up a conversation with Jackie Jacklitsch, whose sons, Dalton and Lukas, had also been training with Clarkson. Neyer mentioned that his transfer to Pierce wasn’t going so well, and Jacklitsch recognized his plight. To ease the burden, she offered Neyer a chance to stay at their condominium in nearby Calabasas, where he graciously accepted her home-cooking and the pull-out mattress in the living room several nights a week.

“For 30 seconds, I went, ‘OK, before you open your mouth, think for a second. Can you really do this?’” Jacklitsch said. “And then I thought, ‘He’s such a great kid, just from knowing him … this kid’s work ethic is not something that you come across. How could you not offer your home to this boy?’”

Neyer’s tribulations were rewarded after the season, when he was extended a scholarship offer and a chance at a starting role at Idaho, which had recently hired a new coaching staff. He accepted that offer, but after that spring semester, found out it was not what he had expected.

Beaten out for the starting job, Neyer’s options were limited. He returned to USC, again as a walk-on, and rejoined the team he left a season before. Neyer finished his collegiate career in December, but not without one accomplishment: He took the final two snaps of a 49-14 victory over Notre Dame, carrying the ball twice for five yards.

Given an opportunity

Struck by Neyer’s accuracy, poise and leadership at his pro day in mid-March, the Redskins extended him an offer to try out after the draft concluded. Neyer felt fresh after two CFL tryouts, and he flew to Washington last Thursday, waking up at 3 a.m. to catch a cross-country flight, arrive at Redskins Park, take a physical and receive his weekend playbook.

One of two quarterbacks at the two-day camp — former Georgia starter Hutson Mason was the other — Neyer worked as the second-team quarterback and took roughly a third of the snaps over the four practice sessions. He felt relaxed, comfortable and confident, believing that he had nothing to lose.

“Those guys have a lot of information thrown at them, and it’s different terminology that means totally different things than what they’re used to,” coach Jay Gruden said Saturday afternoon, in between the third and fourth sessions. “He’s done a good job.”

Before departing on Sunday morning, Neyer met with Gruden, who shared that the team wasn’t going to be offering him a contract. Once again, Neyer was told his experience was too limited; the team knew what it could get out of Mason, who signed a deal on Monday.

Neyer understood. After flying home that afternoon, he unpacked his bags and thought about his future. A communications major with a minor in business, Neyer made a decision. No matter the outcome, he’d stick with football for now, continuing to pursue a goal that he hoped had eluded him only temporarily.

After all, working hard and chasing a dream is all he’s known.

“You’re not going to be great at everything you do,” Neyer said. “You’re not going to be perfect. You’re going to fail, but you’re going to learn from those failures and get better if you stick with it.

“That’s what I had the opportunity to do, and that’s what I did.”

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