Troy Neal Day at the Merrill Community Center on Friday was just a small sample of what the Pine Bluff native has in store for the children of the community.

Troy Neal Day at the Merrill Community Center on Friday was just a small sample of what the Pine Bluff native has in store for the children of the community.

Neal, 62, is a former running back for the New York Jets and is a Pine Bluff native. He moved back to Pine Bluff in August and has been doing volunteer work with the Merrill Community Center and the Department of Recreation since.

“I came back to Pine Bluff to work with the kids and we really need it here,” he said. “I am enjoying myself. We just need more support and more volunteers to work with the community because the crime rate is so bad.”

But the children Neal have met are not bad kids, though. They just need a positive influence in their life, he said.

“The kids that I have met that have been bad kids are not bad, they just need role models to spend time with,” he said. “You have some people who are in positions to criticize the kids and what they should do is reach out to them.

“I have a very good relationship with most of the kids that I have met. Being an ex-athlete, they look up to me and I look up to them.”

Neal has met plenty of children since moving back, too.

“I think I have reached about 50 to 60 kids,” he said. “That’s God drawing them to me. It’s a good feeling to reach kids, so that’s my calling and that’s my ministry.

“God is in the plan and he knows best and the kids are in the plan.”

Neal went to Townsend Park High School, which has since merged with Dollarway High, and was named an All-State player four times. He went to Arkansas-Pine Bluff to play football before the United States Army drafted him.

After serving his time in the U.S. Army, he was signed as a free agent at a tryout camp and went on to rush for about 350 yards, according to Neal.

Neal was a running back and played 1 1/2 years for the Jets in the mid-1970s. His NFL career ended when he hurt his knee in a game against the Denver Broncos.

“My mother told me after I got hurt that football wasn’t everything,” he said. “So I went back to school and got my degree. … Now I just tell kids to finish school because sports isn’t everything, it’s secondary.”

Neal graduated from East Texas State University (now Texas A&M-Commerce) and then moved to Windsor, Conn. He spent 36 years there and worked for the Department of Recreation for 23 years.

Now Neal is back in Pine Bluff and ready to help his community.

“I am back home and I am retired and I am a volunteer,” he said. “I am glad to be back home.”

Because of his association with the Jets, Neal has helped implement the NFL Play 60 program in the Pine Bluff. The program is associated with the American Heart Association and First Lady Michelle Obama to encourage children to get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day.

“What I do is I go to the schools and the last two periods of the afternoon, I go and do five or 10 minutes of exercise with them,” Neal said. “I have chart that I give them and they take it home and the parents help them with the rest. After six weeks, I send it back to the Jets and they send me a certificate to give to the kids.

“Exercise is very important because if they don’t get exercise when they are young, it will become more of a problem when they get older.”

Neal is also starting a Hershey’s Track and Field Games program for children from ages 9-14. The first-ever Hershey’s track meet in Pine Bluff is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 5 at Pine Bluff High School.

If a participant ends up qualifying for the national meet in Hershey, Pa., he or she will be flown there for a whole week with all expenses paid.

“I would like to be the first coach from here to get them to the national championship,” Neal said.