8-Man Top 8: Max Neeley
Throughout early to mid-December Kansas Pregame contacted 8-Man football coaches in an effort to name the third annual Top 8 team of seniors for both divisions of 8-Man football in Kansas. After an overwhelming response from coaches, and once all the votes were tallied, 16 players were selected.
This is the 14th of 16 individual player profiles highlighting the Top 8 selections in each division and released in no particular order. Look for more in the coming days.
Max Neeley, QB/RB/LB, 5-11, 170, Dighton
From 2015 to 2018 head coach Ken Simon led Dighton to a winning record each year, including a state runner-up finish in 2016. However, after a 9-3 finish in 2018 that saw DHS advance to the state semifinals, the Hornets were stuck in a rebuilding position.
The next two seasons were a struggle that consisted of two total wins, one by forfeit.
Those struggles helped to forge Dighton into a program that few could top the past two falls, and in no small part to the major contributions of standout athlete Max Neeley.
In 2019, Neeley joined a team that lost a majority of its starters. The freshman played in seven games and contributed heavily, going 21 of 39 passing for 308 yards and four touchdowns with another 218 yards and six TDs on 97 carries offensively.
On the other side of the ball Neeley recorded 45 tackles and a pass deflection as well.
The young team struggled with their lone win coming against Tribune-Greeley County in a Week 4 forfeit.
The next season saw a Week 1 win over Wallace County, 38-18. The game was a look into the future for Dighton with Neeley leading the team with 340 total yards and five total TDs.
The game ended up being the last win of the year for the Hornets, but Neeley put up strong numbers despite a season shortened by COVID, going 55 of 95 for 729 yards and 11 TDs with another 619 yards and 10 scores on 129 carries.
Defensively he totaled 64 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, and a forced fumble.
Neeley entered his junior season in 2021 as part of a group of seven returning starters and 11 lettermen hungry for success after two years of hard knocks. Those bumps as an underclassman stoked the fire of leadership in Neeley.
“Max demands everyone to give their best effort everyday and is not afraid to call out those who are not,” Simon said. “He expects a lot from his teammates as well as himself. He is much like a coach in his expectations so having a leader like that on the field has been great for our football program. He has persevered through some tough times as a freshman and sophomore and all his hard work paid off his junior and senior years. ‘Adversity is the true test of character’ is what we tell our team, and Max faced his share of adversity and was resilient through it all.”
The junior quarterback exploded onto the scene with 2,586 total yards – including 1,588 passing and 995 rushing – and threw 15 touchdown passes with an incredible 31 more on the ground. He also set a career high in tackles with 114, and defended from sideline-to-sideline with four tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a pass deflection, and a fumble recovery.
“(Max has) great instincts, reads well and is very disciplined,” Simon said. “Really athletic and tackles well in space.”
The Hornets went 9-2 on the season with their only regular season loss against Quinter in Week 2. That loss was followed by an eight-game winning streak with each matchup decided by double-digits.
It wasn’t until the quarterfinals of the playoffs that Dighton was finally knocked out by perennial power Victoria, 46-28.
Entering his senior season, Neeley and a strong group of multi-year starters were expected to be among the state’s best and followed through on those expectations in near perfect fashion.
Over the first three games of the season Neeley continued to serve as the team’s starting QB – going 45-68 for 639 yards and eight TDs to two interceptions – until a switch was made to take advantage of the talents of junior Carson Shimer in Dighton’s Week 4 matchup against Hodgeman County.
“Max is a leader on the field and in the weight room,” Simon said. “Max runs the ball hard and is very explosive. His first steps are very quick and he sees the field very well. Max practices at full speed constantly and is an extremely hard worker. We felt that we needed to make a switch that would make us better as a team offensively, it was not anything that Max did or didn't do at QB, we wanted what was best for the team and he was completely open to it and handled it very well.”
After winning those first four matchups by an average of 40-12.5, they won their next seven 48.7-5.7, with Neeley posting dominant numbers in his new role.
Neeley finished the season with 185 carries for 1,150 yards and 24 TDs, 727 passing yards for eight TDs, and 24 receptions for 274 yards and five TDs. He also recorded 113 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two QB hurries, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble defensively.
The senior impressed all year long and helped Dighton to a perfect regular season record and deep run in the playoffs, which included an 11 tackle, four total touchdown, 216 total yard performance in a 52-28 win over Sylvan-Lucas in the second round.
“Great all around athlete,” Sylvan-Lucas head coach Ben Labertew said. “Very explosive and tough kid.”
The Hornets saw their season finally come to an end a couple games later in the semifinals against Thunder Ridge. Despite losing 58-12, Neeley performed well with 133 total yards and a TD, along with 12 tackles defensively. The Hornets finished the year 11-1.
With athleticism too impressive to contain in one sport, Neeley is committed to Emporia State University for track and field after he defends his 2022 1A state title in pole vault and graduates this spring. He plans to major in Health and Human Performance with a concentration in Athletic Training.
“We will miss Max so much on and off the field,” Simon said. “He is a great student athlete who is a great person most importantly. His lack of presence within the school will be tough but he is leaving this place better than he found it. His productivity on and off the field will be a big loss.