by Jim Fenton
Brockton Enterprise and Patriot Ledger
The opening play of just his second collegiate football game was a preview of coming attractions for Stephan Neville.
On Sept. 13, 2008, the Stonehill College newcomer took a kickoff to start a game against Pace University 85 yards for a touchdown, the first of 10 he would bring back for a score in four seasons with the Skyhawks.
Neville ended his Stonehill career last Saturday in fitting fashion, returning the opening kickoff of the second half 77 yards for a TD and adding a 64-yard punt return for a score - the first of his career - in the fourth quarter to seal a win over Assumption College.
The Foxboro resident, who became the school's first football All-America in 2010, leaves the Stonehill program as the national Div. 2 record holder for kickoff returns for a touchdown with 10, which ties him with Larry Beavers of Div. 3 Wesley College for the all-divisions record.
With 11 kick returns for TDs (10 kickoffs, one punt), Neville also shares the national Div. 2 mark with Deante Steele of Shephard University, two shy of the all-divisions mark.
Neville, named the D2football.com national and the Northeast-10 Conference special teams player of the week, brought back 88 kickoffs for 2,785 yards (31.6 average) in four years at Stonehill. His 3,175 all-purpose yards ranks second in school history to only Eddie Vachon (4,689).
Those are pretty impressive accomplishment for someone who didn't return kickoffs in two seasons at Foxboro High.
"My coach never let me,'' said Neville, who was named this week to the All-NE-10 first team as a return specialist. "He always wanted to gives us a rest somewhere. I returned punts, but not kickoffs.
"During preseason (at Stonehill in '08), they had open tryouts for specialist positions, and if you're good at it, you stick with it and if not they pretty much fire you.
"It's something I really wanted a chance to do, and they gave me a chance.''
Neville, who was also a two-time All-NE-10 selection at cornerback, had three TDs on kickoff returns as a sophomore, four as a junior and two this season.
The final one against Assumption last weekend put him right there with Beavers for the all-divisions record.
"It meant a lot,'' said Neville, who moved to Foxboro from Atlanta while in high school. "As the numbers kept piling up, that was the goal, to get to at least 10. Just to have my name mentioned nationally with some of the great kick returners through college is just great.
"It was absolutely incredible (to do it in the last game). You couldn't write a better script in my mind for the way I went out. We got a big win over a quality team, and to go and get the records I got and essentially having the game-winning score with my parents there and my brother, it was incredible.''
The more success Neville had during his career, the fewer chances he had to return kicks as opponents would keep the ball away by squibbing kicks. That helped Stonehill, which would often begin drives around its own 40-yard line this season.
"Anytime they kick it to me it's a surprise, but I love it,'' said Neville. "It gives me an opportunity to show what I can do. We have a great scheme here that teams haven't been able to figure out after four years and my blockers were great. Some guys (Jake Boganski, Danny Carducci and Matt Iannucci) have been on this kickoff return team all four years and they get none of the fanfare.''
Neville said he is hoping to keep playing football at a professional level next season.
"I plan on pursuing a professional career somewhere, somehow, some way - anywhere where they'll take me to play,'' said Neville, who mentioned the CFL, the UFL and the Arena League. "But I'm going to miss it with all the guys I built such great relationships with and the coaches that really gave me the opportunity to get where I am right now.''
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