During the summer, newcomers to the Ole Miss Rebel football team were not allowed to interview with the media due to NCAA rules.
But we were able to interview veterans and one of the main questions we always asked was "which freshmen are looking good in workouts?"
Most of the time, Ole Miss freshman Wide Receiver Dexter McCluster was part of their answer.
"He's the quickest player I've ever seen." . . "He works really hard.". . . "He acts likes a veteran by always trying to be first in the drill lines.". . . All common statements about the 5-9, 170-pounder from Largo, FL.
Dexter takes those compliments in stride - appreciative of the comments, but knowing the journey has just begun.
"I love the game. Anything you love, you give it all you've got," said the personable McCluster. "I've always worked hard at football ever since I was a little kid. When you are my size in a game of giants, you better take advantage of every asset you have and not let anyone outwork you.
"It's nice my veteran teammates said those things, but I'm still a rookie and I've got a lot to prove. I guess you could say I'm off to a good start, though, by having their early approval."
Dexter picked up on the fact that effort was an ally pretty quickly.
"Man, there are some big boys here," he laughed. "I recognized pretty quickly that to succeed on this level I was going to have to work as hard as I humanly can. In the weight room, on the practice field, in the film room and in the class room."
Dexter was almost an academic casualty. Strange for someone as articulate as he is.
"I regret my first two high school years. I was immature and didn't take seriously what my coaches and the people around me were saying," he explains. "I dug myself a hole and it took everything I had to dig myself out my senior year. Fortunately, I was able to, but I learned my lesson on keeping up and the importance of taking care of your books. It would have crushed me to have the opportunity to play college football away from me. It was too close for comfort, but that's all behind me now.
"I spent a lot of my senior year warning kids at my high school who have college potential to make sure they didn't wait to get their work done. I hope I did them some good."
Dexter thinks he brings some assets to the table that are vital in college football.
"Football used to be about bulk. It still is in the trenches, but out in the open field, it's all about speed," he continued. "I bring speed and quickness and field vision to the table."
McCluster hopes to exhibit those assets quickly and to get on the field this year.
"The coaches told me I have a chance to play this year. We don't have a lot of experience at wide receiver, so I think the opportunity is there for some freshmen wideouts to play," Dexter said. "I have to get acclimated to being a wide receiver instead of a running back, but I think I made big strides in the summer making the switch."
Dexter also worked on his body in the summer months.
"After I got here and saw how big everyone is, I felt it would be in my best interest to bulk up a little. I have put on 8-10 pounds of good weight," he noted.
So far, so good, now that he's used to the adjustment to college life.
"At first, the routine was difficult - getting up at 5:30 in the morning and the day seemingly going on forever, but I adjusted and now it's like second nature to me," he ended. "College football is serious. It's fun, but it's also business. If you understand that and love the game, everything is fine."
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