MERRILLVILLE | Imagine a hungry hawk scanning the countryside, then spotting a pigeon and plucking it from the air like fuzz off a sweater.
You've just met Merrillville safety Ryan Neal.
"When the ball's in the air, the attitude I've been taught to have is 'It's yours,'" said Neal, who has four interceptions this season and 12 total since 2012.
Not every potential pick finds his welcoming arms.
"Usually, I get 'em on jump balls or those thrown really low," Neal said. "But when I don't, it's 'Man, I could've had that ball' and people will rub it in."
Merrillville (9-1) travels to Lake Central (7-2) for tonight's Class 6A Sectional 1 championship.
"It's a good feeling to be in the paper and say 'Hey, that's my picture,'" added Neal, one of many stars for the Pirates. "But it's no big deal for me. It's a normal thing (being overlooked).
"We win and that's all that matters."
Neal had 130 tackles and eight interceptions as a junior. He's among team leaders this season with 64 tackles.
He is the younger brother of Green Bay Packers' linebacker Mike Neal.
"Ryan's got a good feel for the game; good instincts. I would assume it's genetics," said coach Zac Wells, smiling. "And he's really good after you show him what to do or after watching film. He catches on quickly.
"He's also good against the run and, against the pass, he's probably as complete a player as we've had here at that position."
Neal has drawn interest from Bowling Green and Central Michigan, among the MAC schools.
"It's fun playing the safety position," he said. "It's almost like playing linebacker, but the ball's right there. It's a game-changing position."
While Wells wants Neal to be more vocal on the field, the personable teen doesn't hide his love of the game or the emotion he plays with.
"He's a very intense person," Wells said. "But he's not over the top with his emotions."
Except when watching big brother Mike on TV.
"What people don't know about me is that my favorite team is not the Packers," Ryan Neal said. "I go crazy when I watch him play but I'm a fan of players more than teams."
And if he told him he wasn't a cheesehead?
"He'd probably punch me," Ryan laughed.