Editor’s note: Story updated to indicate that four offensive linemen are signed or have committed to be a part of ECU’s recruiting class of 2023.
Marleo Neolien is a classic example of the “late bloomer” when it comes to football.
Raised on the South Shore of Long Island in the village of Freeport, and just outside of New York City where basketball is king, Neolien’s height made him gravitate to the hard wood at an early age. It wasn’t until Neolien was a sophomore at Long Island Lutheran High School that the football coaches convinced him to make an appearance on the gridiron.
“The football coaches over there saw him playing basketball, and they told him he should try football,” said Ernest Anderson, the head coach at St. Thomas More Prep in Oakdale, Connecticut, where Neolien developed almost overnight into a Football Bowl Subdivision prospect.
The 6-foot-8, 310-pound offensive tackle became a late addition to East Carolina’s football recruiting Class of 2023 on January 24 when he signed a national letter of intent with the Pirates. Neolien has already enrolled at ECU and will join the Pirates for spring practice.
Several Football Bowl Subdivision programs were showing interest in Neolien after the completion of his senior season at Long Island Lutheran in early 2022. But Neolien opted instead to reclassify into the recruiting Class of 2023 and attend St. Thomas More in hopes of generating more interest and getting an extra year to develop his talent against some future college talent.
Neolien joined a post-graduate roster full of major college prospects at St. Thomas More. The Chancellors also played a competitive schedule against college junior varsity squads and top prep-school squads such as IMG Academy and St. Francis Academy out of Baltimore, MD.
“He was about 360 pounds when they talked him into coming out for football (at Long Island Luthern),” Anderson said. “When he got here, he lost a ton of weight. He dropped down to 318 pounds. We were able to kind of mold this big piece of clay into a scholarship athlete. The coaches at his previous school did a great job instilling a work ethic in him. So, when we got him all we tried to do was make sure that we put him in different situations in order to see his development and improvement.
“He got to play against four stars, five stars (recruits) from all over the country because we play a national schedule, as well as going up against our defensive line that had four Division I kids. So, it really helped his development.”
On any given day in practice this season, Neolien found himself doing battle with Penn State signee Joseph Mupoyi or edge rusher DaShawn Womack, who is headed to LSU. On other days he’d be asked to fight off Cincinnati signee Brian Simms III or sophomore Adam Shovlin, who has already reeled in seven FBS offers.
Neolien dedicated himself to becoming a quality offensive lineman and put in countless of hours beyond practice to improve, according to Anderson.
“He’s massive. That’s the first thing that stands out about him,” Anderson said. “But then his competitiveness is what really stood out. He’s so eager to learn football. We had to teach him how to jump step, how to vertical step on speed rushes. But he would stay after practice every single day to get more work.
“Our other tackle (Trey Spann), who is committed to Fordham, and one of our guards (Harry Walsh), who is going to Saint Anslem, those three would get together every morning and do kick steps and all that type of stuff. And after practice they would work with the defensive line to get better. And that wasn’t easy against the guys we had over there on defense. He was really working against top-notch kids like he is going to see at the next level, and he never shied away.”
About midway through the St. Thomas More’s 2022 season bigger schools began to take notice of Neolien’s improvement.
“I think everybody noticed his size over the summer,” Anderson said. “But they kind of wanted to see how he moved. Then, as the season went on, he started to really develop. The light came on. He got stronger. He started to play like a good scholarship offensive lineman, moving people from point A to point B against their will and then landing on them. He did a good job going from a kid who was just kind of pushing people to a kid that was getting contact and moving his feet.”
Anderson credits new East Carolina tight ends coach Allen Mogridge with putting the Pirates out front in the pursuit of Neolien.
ECU offered Neolien a scholarship on January 12 while he was on campus for an official visit. He also entertained offers from Albany, Brown, Bryant, Central Connecticut, Columbia, Dartmouth, Fordham, Lehigh, Penn, St. Francis, Stony Brook, Temple, Villanova, Wagner, Western Michigan and Penn State before settling on the Pirates.
“Coach Mogridge is a rock star,” Anderson said. “He loved Marleo’s film, and he asked me how he could get involved. I got him in touch with Marleo. He recruited him the right way, recruited his family and his little brothers. Marleo fell in love with them.
“Coach Mogridge saw something in Marleo that I saw as well. We knew that this kid, with his size and his future, all he needed was a spring season in order to get use to their size and speed and coaches and system. He (Mogridge) felt like in a few years Marleo is going to be a high-level player, maybe even a (NFL) draft pick.”
Neolien is one of four offensive linemen who have signed or made a verbal commitment to East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2023. He joins Bryce Weaver from Greenville’s D.H. Conley High and Jimarion McCrimon from Kissimmee, FL. Weaver has already signed a letter of intent with the Pirates, while McCrimon just committed on Jan. 27. He’s expected to sign his letter during the national signing period starting Feb. 1.