Back to the Future

Dexter McCluster arrived in Mobile, Ala. for the annual Senior Bowl in mid-February.

He had just wrapped up a record-breaking senior year at Ole Miss, one where he became the first player in Southeastern Conference history to rush for over 1,000 yards and total over 500 yards receiving. NFL coaches and scouts were easily impressed by his game film, despite his undersized, 5-foot-8 frame.

He walked into the South locker room and met the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff. McCluster exchanged pleasantries and talked of his interests outside of football, namely singing. He was quickly stopped. One of the assistants wanted to hear a song.

McCluster didn't hesitate.

"I sang a gospel song," he said.

And that's Dexter McCluster, a rare combination of unwavering confidence and humility. He'll do anything asked of him, even if it means stepping out of his comfort zone in an unfamiliar locker room in south Alabama.

Dexter McCluster

His football knowledge has been often tested on scouting visits. From drawing up his favorite play to identifying a given defense, McCluster is in constant evaluation.

But as he proved over a four-year Ole Miss career, McCluster isn't the average draft-eligible prospect. He's a gym rat and spends countless hours in film study. His gaudy statistics are only trumped by his determination to improve.

"I'd say all the questions are answered," he said. "When we've talked, they never bring up the size. They don't bring up the speed and they don't bring up my toughness. Right now, it's just me waiting on them to call my name."

McCluster dazzled as a running back as a senior. His 286-yard, four-touchdown performance against Tennessee is sure to be talked about for years to come. But he's not limited to the offensive backfield, either.

For the better part of three seasons, he was used strictly as a receiver. There were rare carries in the Wild Rebel, with various spurts in the return game.

"I think it's a plus for the scouts when they see I can do more than one thing," McCluster said. "I can play multiple roles – running back, slot receiver and return man. It helps me out. I would say if I was only doing one, I wouldn't be as high as I am right now."

Admittedly, he still watches old clips of some of his most impressive runs. As he rests from his home in Largo, Fla., a 71-yard run in the 42-17 win over Tennessee sticks out.

Dexter McCluster

McCluster took the ball from the Ole Miss 29-yard line. After being initially stopped at the line of scrimmage, he cut to his left, made a man miss and reached the sideline near midfield. With three Volunteers closing in, he again cutback and headed for paydirt.

It was an ESPN highlight moment.

"I still watch it now. I'll be bored at home, everybody gets mad at me," he said. "They say I'm so conceited. But I just like to see it. Some of those runs I had, I don't remember. When I see them, I'm like, ‘Wow. I did that?'"

Yes, Dexter, you did. A couple hundred fans gathered around the Grove stage, many hoping for an autograph or picture, Saturday morning bared witness.

Now he's focused on the upcoming NFL Draft. He projects anywhere in the first three rounds.

McCluster has high hopes. He's calling for the first round and has heard from many prospective teams, including stops in Washington to see the Redskins and Denver for the Broncos. Others have traveled to Ole Miss to work McCluster out individually.

"I've been traveling a lot, talking to a lot of different teams," he said. "I really don't know (where I'll be drafted). It's still up in the air. But I know this month is going by slow. It's the slowest time in my life, but I'm enjoying every moment of it. It's fun."

Wherever he lands, his goal is simple: to make a lasting impression.

He plans to watch the draft with family and friends in the Venue, a local joint in his hometown Largo. And when the announcement comes, a party of epic proportions is likely to ensue.

"I know it can be gone just like that," McCluster said. "God's given me the ability, so I'm going to respect that and stay humble. I'm not cocky, but I'm confident. Give me the chance and I'm going to get the job done."

Cook projects promising future:

Jason Cook, now an Ole Miss football chaplain, spent three seasons blocking for McCluster.

Cook was a fullback and has seen many a running back pass through the gates of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. But none produced the numbers of the ever-shifty McCluster, who Cook believes has a promising future at the next level.

Jason Cook

"Everybody at the next level can play," he said. "There's no question. The thing about Dexter that's so special is he's just, agility-wise, so much quicker. He brings another level of quickness that no one else can simulate."

According to Cook, McCluster would be best served in a West Coast offense. Cook compares McCluster to Percy Harvin, albeit quicker, whose versatility was on display over an Offensive Rookie of the Year season for the Minnesota Vikings.

Cook has familiarity with the professional level, too. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. After not making the roster, he returned to Ole Miss to work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 2009.

"There are many nights where I fell asleep with that playbook on my chest in Baltimore," Cook said. "He'll have to study a lot. But Dex will be a guy, depending on the system, who will pick up the playbook quickly. He's going to spend a lot of nights up late and a lot of morning up early."

OM Spirit Top Stories