February 26, 2009

McCluster gearing for senior season

Dexter McCluster has worn dreadlocks for the past four years.

His beloved, perfectly-braided hair _ hanging well past his shoulders with the tips dyed bronze _ is 10 pounds away from the barber-shop floor.

McCluster, Ole Miss' speedy wide receiver/running back and the offensive MVP of the Rebels' AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic win over Texas Tech, has a deal with strength and conditioning coach Don Decker.

"If I don't get to 180 before the season's over, he is going to cut my dreads down some," McCluster said Wednesday afternoon.

McCluster, a rising senior from Largo, Fla., blew past the Red Raiders at 165 pounds. He's at 170 now, meaning he has just 10 months or so to pack on 10 more pounds of muscle on his 5-foot-8 frame.

"I won't back out," McCluster said with a smile.

McCluster rushed 42 times for 655 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. He added 44 receptions for 625 yards and a score. The extra weight, obviously, would help him absorb the physical punishment he's going to get next season. However, will the extra pounds take away from his blazing speed and elusiveness?

"I don't know," McCluster said. "I've never been that size, but the strength staff knows what is best. If I do get to that, hopefully I'll keep the speed. If not, I'll slim back down a little bit."

McCluster said he'll work primarily with the wide receivers when spring drills begin on March 26, though he expects to get some work at running back and be very much in the mix _ along with Brandon Bolden and others _ as the quarterback in the "Wild Rebel" formation.

"I expect they will use me the same way (as last season)," McCluster said. "I'm not sure how many carries I'll get out of the backfield, but I'm the type of guy that wherever they need me, I'll go out and do it. Toward the end of the season, I was getting the ball quite a bit. I have no problem with that, but it's all about helping the team.

"I'm with the receivers. I guess the running back feels pretty natural, and there's not much to learn. Receivers have to stay crisp on their routes. They just want to stick with receivers and make sure I'm still in sync with Jevan. If they decide to move me, that's what we'll do. I've learned to love wide receiver a lot, and running back was my passion since I was younger, but I'm not the prototype-style back. There's been a lot of talk about slot receiver, and I'm loving it. Wherever _ back, slot receiver, returner _ I'll be happy to be there."

Besides protecting his dreadlocks, McCluster said he wants to step up his role in another compartment.

"Personally, I want to become a leader - not just actions," McCluster said. "I want to be vocal. It's something Coach (Houston Nutt) asked me to do, and I want to step up and be that guy.

"We're a new team. We have such good chemistry and having fun working out. We just want to keep the ball rolling. It's a lot more fun. Football is supposed to be fun, and to see a smile on everybody's face whether it is a five in the morning run or a three in the afternoon workout, it's all fun. We wish we could still be playing right now."

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