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Monmouth getting Sterling effort from freshman
In the late fall afternoons of 2010, Monmouth freshman wide receiver, Neal Sterling, reeled in one reception after another.
Except they didn’t count.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound former Manasquan High School standout was doing his damage in practices only.
But now as a redshirt freshman, Sterling is quickly making the same impressive impact.
When Monmouth (5-4, 4-2) hosts co-Northeast Conference leading Albany (6-3, 5-1) in today’s 1 p.m game with an opportunity to further tighten the NEC race, Sterling enters the game tied for No. 1 in all of FCS football among freshman receivers with 44 catches.
“I’m just defintely blessed to have the ability to play like this,’’ Sterling said. “I have to be thankful for everything.’’
“He’s a very talented athlete,’’ Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. “We figured he could develop into kind of a go-to guy this year. He’s come along really well for us.’’
That might be an understatement.
His reception total, a Monmouth freshman record, ties him for the seventh most in a single Hawks’ season with Miles Austin (2003).
His 546 receiving yards are tied for the 10th best season effort at Monmouth with Adam San Miguel and Will Holder.
Sterling said it wasn’t fun being held out of varsity action in 2010. “Last year was definitely frustrating sitting out,’’ he said. “I thought I had the ability to be out on the field but in the long run I knew it would definitely help me.’’
And he said it has. “After the first year I learned all the plays, got everything down pat, eveything on point.
“And after winter conditioning I got that much faster, that much stronger. It definitely helped me be a lot better player.’’
Built along the same, sleek lines of the 6-foot-2, 215 pound Austin, eventual comparisons between the two are bound to emerge.
Austin played as a true freshman and had 10 catches. His best season was 49 in an injury-shortend senior year capping a career total of 150, No. 2 all-time to San Miguel’s 194.
Callahan wasn’t about to make any comparisons with Austin at this early stage of Sterling’s career.
“To put that type of pressure on any player and say that as a college sophomore they’re comparable to a two-time All-Pro is very difficult to do and I wouldn’t do that to anybody,’’ Callahan said.
“I guess time will tell. He certainly has some skills and he has some tools.’’
Sterling said he’s enjoyed brief meetings with Austin who returns periodically to visit the school and the team.
“It’s always good to see a Monmouth alum making it,’’ Sterling said. “It definitely boosts my drive to become a better player.’’
With a win today Monmouth would remain in the hunt to at least share the regular-season NEC title and would also break its school record six-game home losing streak.
“Regardless of what our record is we like playing at home,’’ Callahan said. “This is where our families, our friends, our fans, can see us play.
“It’s always exciting to play at Kessler Field and to have a big game like this against a team that’s ahead of us in the standings means a lot for us.’’
“This is a real, big game,’’ Sterling said. “If we lose we’re done.’’
By Tony Graham, Asbury Park Press