Mr. Do-it-All

Over the course of his football career, senior WR/RB Dexter McCluster has continued to prove the doubters and critiques wrong.

He's been called undersized, with some deciding his 5-foot-8, 170 pound frame couldn't hold up against Southeastern Conference competition. Others wondered if the speedy running back from Largo, Fla. would make a successful transition to wide receiver in college.

But now entering his final year at Ole Miss having totaled 1,183 yards through the air and 786 on the ground, it's safe to say McCluster is well on his way to even greater heights. And to the all-purpose gem, that bright future starts in 2009.

"I'm so ready, because I know a lot of people are ready to see how we're going to respond to (expectations)," McCluster said of the upcoming season. "I think we got what it takes to do a lot better than last year if we just take it one step at a time, one game at a time. We're going to shock a lot of people and step up to the challenge."

While he can hardly hide his excitement for the team's season opener against Memphis, the journey to this point has certainly been trying for McCluster.

A lot has happened to Dex since the Rebels' Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech, including a traumatic car wreck while riding with teammate Greg Hardy earlier this month. Thankfully, both players walked away safely, but McCluster said the experience has given him a renewed perspective.

"I'm just happy to be here," he said. "I'm just glad I'm able to come in here and workout with the team to get ready for the upcoming season. I came out good. It was nothing out of the ordinary. It was my first accident, actually. It shook me up pretty bad, but me and Greg were able to get out safely. Thank God for that. Like I said, we're just trying to put that behind us and move forward."

Although viewing the wreck in the rearview mirror will take some time, McCluster is finding solace in the weight room.

Like many of his teammates, the three-year letterman has made significant strides under strength and conditioning coach Don Decker this offseason, adding that team morale is higher than ever before.

"The summer has been good. All around the team, chemistry is where it needs to be," said McCluster. "Myself, I've been working hard to get stronger and faster. The whole team, from linemen to receivers, is getting faster and stronger. It's been a fun summer."

A few players have stood out to McCluster this offseason, but fellow receiver Shay Hodge immediately came to mind when asked.

"Shay Hodge has definitely gotten faster," he said. "The freshmen have also come in hungry and are working hard. They're running fast. This program is getting ready to be where it needs to be."

As an established leader in a senior class full of veteran voices, Dexter has made himself available to any newcomer seeking advice.

While getting adjusted to the college game is a hurdle all freshmen face, the Largo High School product has been impressed with the youngsters' eagerness to learn.

"Right now, they're really just learning and watching us. They're trying to see what we do and learn the plays," McCluster said. "Nobody is really standing out. But like I said, they're hungry to learn and to get in the rotation."

And if there were any player to listen to, McCluster tops the list.

In his first game as a Rebel, McCluster racked up 268 all-purpose yards – the fourth-best single game total in school history. He finished the year third on the team in all-purpose yards with 574, despite missing half the season due to injury.

Last season, his first full year not cut short due to injury, he finished as one of only two players to rank top-10 in the SEC in rushing yards, receiving yards, receptions and all-purpose yards. He also topped the team in rushing (655) and led the way in rushing touchdowns (6).

Not by coincidence, 2008 was the first under offensive coordinator Kent Austin. McCluster said the rapport between Austin and his troops has paid dividends both on and off the field.

"Coach Austin is a great coach and a funny guy," he said. "He gets along with the whole team. He knows his football. He knows how to get players open, how to call it and when to call it. As far as play-calling, he's the man.

"He came in and said this is what we're going to do and this is how we're going to do it. That's pretty much how it's been since he's been here. Whatever he says, I know it's going to work, so I just go out there and do it."

As with every recruiting class, certain players step forward and stamp their place in Rebel lore. A three-star prospect in 2006, it could be argued that Dexter has proven to be the cream of the crop.

"I'm a senior now and I want to develop into a leader like the seniors before me," he said. "I want guys to be able to look to me as an example of the way things are done.

"We have great chemistry on this team and are having so much fun now. We can't wait to go to workouts, to practice, to 5:30 a.m. workouts - it's all fun, the way it's supposed to be, and we want to keep that rolling."

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