FROM A CAT TO A LION: Central Mountain’s star athlete Justin Neff commits to Penn State

Justin Neff (bottom center) signs his letter of intent to play football at Penn State University. Neff was a star athlete in both basketball and football at Central Mountain High School. He sits beside his parents and Central Mountain staff behind him. (The Express/Shareik Flowers)

MILL HALL-  For six years now hanging on Justin Neff’s bedroom wall is a framed letter  from the great Penn State running back Larry Johnson– encouraging the young football player to continue his hard work and remain passionate about Penn State football.

Now, Neff is turning that passion into reality as he prepares for the next stage of his  football career.

On Feb. 6, Neff signed his letter-of-intent to continue his football career as a safety at Penn State – a decision that was easy to make once he received PSU’s official offer.

“As a kid I always had a love for Penn State,” Neff said.  “I was talking to some Ivy League schools, and a couple of Division II schools in the area, but once Penn State sent me the preferred walk-on spot I took that.”

As he transitions from playing on Friday night’s to Saturday afternoons, Neff looks forward to the incredible atmosphere that dominates Happy Valley. In a recent USA Today poll , Beaver  Stadium was voted the no.1 college football stadium in America, and the opportunity to play in front of 100 thousand fans is one of the factors that pushed Neff toward committing to the Nittany Lions.

“All the support behind the football team is one thing I’ve loved for years,” Neff explained. “Going to games as a kid, seeing all the 107 thousand fans there and everyone going crazy there Penn State. I just want to get up there, work and do what I can do.”

Neff’s love for the game began when he was still a young kid living in Kentucky, and he acknowledges that his family and former coaches were all critical to his success in becoming a great football player.

“I would not be in the position I am without all the help I’ve had over the years,” Neff said.  “From my first little league coach in Kentucky, to my parents and three high school coaches (Jim Renninger, Mike Nines and Vinny Kishbaugh).

Current Central Mountain football coach Jim Renninger expressed his enthusiasm with having one of his athletes committing to PSU, commenting how Neff deserves this opportunity given his dedication to the game.

“He’s a tremendous kid who worked really hard and I’m excited to see how he makes out,” Renninger said. “I know he’ll do great things.”

“Penn State’s going to be getting a great kid who works hard,” Renninger added.  “He’s family-oriented and he’ll be loyal to the program.”

Neff was a dual-threat player for Central Mountain during his Wildcat career, shining at both quarterback and safety, In his senior year he recorded 2,074 all-purpose yards and 17-total touchdowns. On defense he added 102 tackles and two interceptions- he also returned three kickoffs for scores.

“He’s explosive and rangy,” Renninger said.  “He can play multiple positions. He really has a lot of diversity to himself as a player and he’s got the frame to put on some size and get bigger.”

While Neff has impressed his coaches on  the gridiron- off the field he’s impressed his parents more.  They’re proud of the man he’s become and are both excited with him fulfilling his dream to play for the Nittany Lions.

“For him to achieve his dream is unbelievable,” said Justin’s father Scott Neff.  “It’s been Justin’s dream for as long as I can remember.”

“I’m very proud of the young man he’s become,” said  Justin’s mother Susan Neff.   “I really look forward to seeing what he’s going to become when he goes to college, and I know it’s going to be great.”