‘Play the next play’
Former Gators football player Michael McNeely, MD ’19, looks forward to bright future in family medicine
Everything moved slowly and quickly at the same time. The Gators were down in the second quarter of the annual Florida-Georgia football game, but Michael McNeely tuned out the crowd noise and focused on one task: “Catch the ball, then go from there.”
He had worked on this play for days. He lined up to hold the ball for a field goal attempt but instead darted down the field for a touchdown. Everything around him stood still as he ran those 21 yards to the end zone, a move that turned the tide of the game on Nov. 1, 2014, resulting in a win for the Gators.
“It was surreal; as soon as the ball was snapped, everything happened really fast,” McNeely says. “Before I knew it, my teammates were on me, celebrating, and all I could think was, ‘Did that just happen?’ I couldn’t let it sink in because we had to move on to the next play.”
McNeely — a walk-on wide receiver for the Gators who earned the nickname “fake-kick hero” for that moment and made headlines from ESPN to Yahoo Sports — graduated from UF with a bachelor’s degree in fall 2014, trading his jersey for a white coat. After four years at the UF College of Medicine, he now turns his attention to the next play: a family medicine residency at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle.
Michael McNeely’s Road to Graduation
“I decided to join the military because it’s an excellent opportunity to give back to a country that’s provided so many opportunities for me,” says McNeely, a Clearwater native. “It’s an honor to not only serve the country but also to directly care for those who are doing the same.”
He was first drawn to health care as a child, when his mom would come home from work overflowing with stories about her job as a pediatrician. When McNeely hit the football field as a high school athlete, he gained an appreciation for the physicians who patched him up and helped him continue pursuing his passion.
His interest in family medicine kicked in during his first preceptorship as a UF medical student at Orlando’s Grace Medical Home, a primary care clinic for the underserved.
“That first exposure to clinical medicine changed my whole perspective,” he says. “Following my military commitment, I’d like to open a doctor’s office like that for people who don’t have access to health care. There’s a shortage of primary care physicians in our country, and I’d like to help. That’s where my heart is. The beauty is that you get to build relationships with patients and walk through little victories with them.”
As he takes the next step in his professional journey, the 2019 graduate says he will hold onto the lessons he’s learned at UF — on and off the field.
“We have a saying in football: ‘Play the next play,’” says McNeely, noting that he has called upon this phrase in situations ranging from rigorous medical school exams to challenging patient encounters. “Regardless of how the last play went, there’s another coming up. You need to forget what happened on the last play, whether your emotional state is high or low, to collect yourself and enter that next play in a place where you can do your best.”
This story originally ran in the Summer 2019 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.