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Honoring the Seniors: Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy

Today, we take a look at the leader of the 2014 Georgia Tech defense and one of the top-performing linebackers in school history.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As a Recruit:

In his high school years, Quayshawn Nealy was a highly-recruited three-star, 5.6-rated outside linebacker out of Lakeland, Florida. He was the 86th ranked OLB by Rivals - but was unranked regionally and nationally. Despite not receiving top-tier recognition from rankings, Nealy was pursued by numerous power-five conference schools. His impressive list of offers included Georgia, Michigan, Louisville, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Virginia, and - of course - Georgia Tech. Nealy was recruited by Billy Jean-Mary - before his departure to Louisville - and made his commitment in December of 2009.

As a Yellow Jacket:

Off of the field, Nealy was a great representative of the institution as a student-athlete with great professionalism and high character. His interviews were always insightful and filled with smiles even from his first years on campus. He made the Dean's List in 2012 and graduated from Tech with a degree in management.

After redshirting his first year at Tech, Quayshawn debuted in 2011 and saw a great deal of playing time - including seven starts - at inside linebacker. His freshman year highlight was a 74-yard interception return touchdown in the Sun Bowl against Utah.

He used that momentum to make 13 starts in his sophomore season in 2012. Nealy finished the season with 79 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions. He once again closed out the year with a big interception in the Sun Bowl - this time against USC.

His junior season showcased another steady and productive year with 12 more starts at ILB. His 66 tackles were second on the team, and he finished with two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown in the 56-0 massacre of Syracuse.

Nealy's senior season easily turned out to be his best, as he tallied 90 total tackles, six tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, and two defensive touchdowns on his way to an All-ACC second team selection by the media. His game against NC State was likely his most productive of his career. He had six tackles, an incredible interception near the goal line deep into an NC State drive that he returned 71 yards before unfortunately fumbling it back to the Wolfpack, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown that completely turned the game around into a Georgia Tech stomping of NC State. His most memorable play of the season is probably - well, I'll just leave it right here.

In the insanity that was the Georgia Tech-Georgia game this year, the importance of Nealy's hustle play is often lost in all of the other unforgettable moments. Racing across the field at a perfect angle forced a fumble that kept Tech from going down two scores and losing any bit of potential momentum going into halftime.

That play shows the great skill-set that Quayshawn has. Despite the short field and the play going to the sideline, he avoids senior David Andrews' attempted block while throwing him to the ground and sprints to the pylon to make a game-changing play. He may not be the most physically imposing linebacker or have the quickest 40 time, but Quayshawn Nealy is going to use his intelligence and effort to be a great contributor on whatever football team he's on.

Quayshawn's leadership and 287 career tackles - good for 17th all time among Tech linebackers - will be sorely missed next year on defense, as he was the perfect representative of what you want in a vocal linebacker. There's still a chance you'll be able to watch him play though, as Nealy is currently ranked 21st among ILB's by CBS Sports going into the draft and a borderline draft pick this spring.

Thank you, Quayshawn, for your undeniable leadership and stable presence in the middle of the Georgia Tech defense for the last four years. Your tenacity and perseverance will be missed on the Flats. Good luck on your journey to the NFL!