COLUMN: The NFL’s recent decision to lockout players on all 32 teams has given those individuals a chance to catch up on some loose ends.
In the case of former Ole Miss standout running back/wide receiver Dexter McCluster, his down time has led him back to Oxford where he is currently trying to finish up his degree.
McCluster said he only needs to finish two classes, broadcast journalism and an advanced class in English, to secure a degree that he was encouraged to finish by the Kansas City Chiefs organization.“Kansas City played a big role in that. I wanted to come back but I wasn’t sure when and they said ‘Dexter, you only have this many classes you can go and knock it out. How do you feel about it?’ I said I might as well do it now,” McCluster said during Tuesday’s Pro Day at Ole Miss. “It was hard coming back after spending a year in the league and coming back and getting back into school mode, but I’m back in and looking to finish.”
McCluster doesn’t go to class with other students — he was told he would be a distraction — so he instead gets instruction in one-on-one situations around campus.
When McCluster isn’t working on his degree, he has been working out in order to maintain his strength and conditioning so he would be ready for the next NFL season when, or if, the lockout ends.
“They really don’t want us to talk too much about it. I would say that I’m ready to play. Whenever we get that call, I want to make sure that me, personally, that my body is in shape and my wind is where it needs to be and I’m ready to go. I’m watching everything that’s going on hoping everything gets settled,” McCluster said of the lockout. “Me and Kendrick Lewis keep up with each other all the time. It was about a month ago when the season was over, I called him and asked him when he was going to work out and we both said the same thing that our body still hurts so we’re going to chill for a little bit. We’re both back to working out now.
“I’m working out at Under Construction Fitness right next to Kabuki with Dennis Montgomery. I do a lot of floor work with him getting that cardio and endurance up and I come here (IPF) to get in a light workout. I like to keep in touch with these guys because this is where it all started.”
Some highs, lows
McCluster experienced some success and some setbacks during his rookie campaign with the Chiefs. His highlight was a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown in the season opener against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football. His low was suffering a high ankle sprain during the season that ultimately effected his overall production.
McCluster talked about his punt return on Tuesday and how nervous he was when he got the call from Chiefs head coach Todd Haley to return the punt.
“The funny part about that is I hadn’t had a return all night. I heard Coach Haley say ‘Dexter, are you ready?’ I said yeah I’m ready. I was nervous at the time. It was raining and I was back there like ‘Dexter, just catch the ball and everything else will just happen,’” McCluster said. “When I was out there, I looked up and the water was dropping in my eyes and I then when I caught it, I realized how much room I had in an instant everything kicked in. I made one guy miss and then I had a convoy lead me to the end zone.”
The touchdown not only helped the Chiefs win the game, but it also won him a place in the heart of the fans, who live and die for the Chiefs.
“I love playing for the Chiefs. When I got there I kind of had that same feeling I had here at Ole Miss. There is a lot of love in the town. They love Chiefs,” McCluster said. “They’re die-hard fans and I fit right in with the guys. A lot of guys were coming up to me asking me if I could really take a hit. When we got the pads on, they saw how aggressive I am and they said ‘let’s go.’”
Proving that he can play in the Southeastern Conference, and now in the NFL, is something McCluster is always having to battle. He said his Kansas City teammates didn’t even know if he could take a hard hit at 165 pounds.
“I did get hurt. I suffered a high ankle sprain. It was kind of unfortunate. I wish I could have gotten back sooner, but with those kind of injuries you just never know,” McCluster said. “A lot of people have asked if I was going to hold up but anybody could have gotten a high ankle sprain. That’s nothing major. I’m going to keep working, keep working.”
Work has done McCluster well over his career so far and his passion for finishing his degree while he has the opportunity is just another example of why he is such a popular player and fan favorite, both here in Oxford and now in Kansas City. (March 23, 2011, Page 7)