Altoona football fans remember what kind of a player Neal Huynh was during his days with the Mountain Lions, and for the past four seasons, Ohio Bobcats fans have enjoyed his time on the defensive line as well.
Now, even though it's a long shot, Atlanta Falcons fans will find out if Huynh is worth cheering for, too.
Huynh, who started his final two seasons at Ohio University on the defensive line, was signed on Sunday to a free agent contract by the NFC South Division champs who were one win away from playing in the Super Bowl last season.
Neil Huynh was a standout defender at Ohio University.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
"It's kind of surreal right now," said Huynh, who said there were a handful of other NFL teams that wanted to sign him. "I had a couple of different options. It's an honor and a blessing. A lot of guys don't get this chance to get their foot in the door, but I think once I get down there and meet with the coaches and see the facility, it will probably sink in and get real for me."
Huynh, a 6-foot-4, 301-pound defender, will head to Atlanta this Friday. In his workouts for pro scouts, he ran the 40 in 5.10 and had a 31-1/2 inch vertical jump, an 8-foot-9 broad jump and a 4.71 second short shuttle. Dane Brugler, a scout for NFLDraftScout.com, wrote that Huynh could find a niche on a team looking for a space-eating, one-technique interior defensive linemen.
"As of right now, I am going in as a defensive tackle or a nose guard," Huynh said.
The NFL draft ran for three days, but Huynh said he kept busy the first two days and paid more attention during the final day on Saturday.
"I didn't watch too much of the early rounds because I knew it probably wasn't going to happen. I tried to look at it realistically so I stayed away until the last day, then I started watching, and then it got a little stressful," he said. "I know the Falcons have a great organization and nothing is guaranteed for me so I have to go in and work hard and earn my spot. That is the way it is with free agents."
Phil Riccio, Altoona's athletic director, coached Huynh during his high school days with the Mountain Lions.
"I always thought he was special. He was one of those kids who came on late but he had all the physical attributes with the way he played with leverage and the great hits he had coming off the ball," he said. "Once he got to Ohio, they bulked him up a full 78 pounds and moved him down inside. He had a vision out there and we are so proud of him and how he has worked to this point. He has put it all together."