Falcons rookie free safety Sharrod Neasman just misses picking off a pass off his fingertips during the first day of training camp on Thursday, July 28, 2016, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/ccompton@ajc.com

Neasman took two years off before chasing his football dream 

But football didn’t immediately love him back.

There was no cable television network at the school to show him flip around some ball caps and make his college decision. 

As a matter of fact, he didn’t have any offers even after personally shopping around his youtube.com highlight tape to 30 schools via email. 

“That didn’t really work out,” said Neasman after the Falcons’ practice on Sunday.

Neasman, a determined sort, still wanted to attend college and play football. He’d been playing since his Pop Warner youth football days with the East Manatee Bulldogs, where one of his teammates was future Falcons nickel back Brian Poole. 

When no college offers came, Neasman went to work during the 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift at Federal Express loading trucks. Then he’d go to his second job at PacSun, a clothing store at the mall. This went on for two years before getting an offer to walk-on at Florida Atlantic. 

“I knew that I needed to stay in Florida,” Neasman said. “I did well academically in high school. Florida Atlantic gave me an opportunity.”

Neasman, the son of Latanya Neasman, had a 3.1 grade point average. 

“It was real tough,” Neasman said. “I actually worked and saved up all of that money, because I knew I didn’t have money to go to a school and pay for college tuition. What I did was save up all of that money for a year and half before I could even go to school.”

He pulled up his SAT scores to match his strong grade point average. 

“I had to re-take the SAT test and I had to do different things first to get into a school and then on the football team,” Neasman said. “I made sure the situation was right before I picked a school. 

“I had to get an actual shot to walk-on to the team. I made sure that was all in place so that I could move forward.” 

He played on special teams for two years before earning a scholarship. 

“I just grinded and worked my way up from there,” Neasman said. “I got awarded a scholarship going into my junior year, right after I tore my ACL my sophomore year. I just rehabbed from that and got back on the field.

“My new head coach (Charlie Partridge) that hadn’t even seen me play yet, granted me that scholarship.”

Neasman started 24 games over his final two seasons for the Owls and earned his mechanical engineering degree. 

“I was always a guy down in the box,” Neasman said. “I also played nickel. At Florida Atlantic, my junior year, I was a nickel back that kind of stayed in when it was base offensive personnel.”

The Falcons signed Neasman after the 2016 draft. He made it to the final cut and was signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers. 

After defensive end Derrick Shelby was placed on injured reserve, the Falcons moved Neasman to the 53-man active roster on Oct. 18.

Neasman, who has a three-year, $1.62 million contract, played in three regular season games and the three playoffs games, including Super Bowl LI. He set to make a base salary of $540,000 this season, a big step up from his Fed Ex days. 

The Falcons tried him at both free safety and strong safety. Things started to click for Neasman after they moved him to strong safety, solely.

“It helped a lot finding him one spot to play,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Sharrod played a little bit of free safety and a little bit of strong safety. This spring, we really ironed it out and found his role, covering tight ends, playing in the box, playing physical and then a role on (special) teams.”

With starting strong safety Keanu Neal out with an injury, Neasman started the exhibition season opener against Miami on Thursday. He made a nice tackle on a screen play on third down to force a punt.

“He just jumped in the first group the other night,” Quinn said. “The communication was on point. Playing in coverage was on point. We are excited. We expected that from him. He’s put the work in, we’re hopeful that he’ll make a big jump.”

Neasman is glad he’s not loading packages any more, but he doesn’t plan to stop working.

“I’m continuing to learn the defense,” Neasman said. “I’m a little farther along. I’m in my second year. I feel more comfortable about the defense, what I’m doing and how ever piece of the defense fits. That allows me to play a lot more comfortably and faster.” 

Falcons coach Dan Quinn gives an update on Davonta Freeman, who left practice with a "heat" related player. Idle by D. Orlando Ledbetter

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