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Real Talk with QBV #11: Former NFL RB/WR and Current Personal Trainer Dexter McCluster

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

On Tuesday, August 18th, QB Velocity met with former Pro Bowler Dexter McCluster. McCluster was considered a swiss army knife type of player, meaning he could play multiple positions and be great. His versatility helped him become a successful player in the NFL.

Dexter McCluster was always told he was too small, colleges told him he couldn't play offense because he was considered too small. Against all odds he was drafted in the second round and he even became a Pro Bowler! We learned a whole lot from Dexter. He preaches being a stand up guy and being a role model and mentor. Let's take a look into the wise words of the great Dexter McCluster!

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What's your advice for athletes during covid?

“Yeah man 2020 has been a whirlwind man with this Covid thing. First and foremost, safety is most important, people have families out here, Fathers, Mothers and Grandmothers, whoever it may be safety is always first.

But for the athletes now, are the ones that may have just been drafted, taking it from an NFL aspect of it, it’s different for them because they won’t be able to get to know the offense or have that film out there to let them know what they can do, so it’s hard. But I would tell those athletes, at least right now that it’s a different situation, but, it’s adversity you’ve been through this your whole life, having to be able to adapt to situations.

It’s a scary thing because at the end of the day, it’s a real situation, there’s a lot of families that are being torn apart by this virus. As a player at the NFL level, College Level, or Pop Warner level, they want to play Football, this is what they dream about growing up each and day every we want to get to that highest level, the NFL.

I would just tell them stay focused and stay the course, try and be safe as possible and make the best decision for you and your family. If that’s playing, go ahead and do it, I can’t tell another man or family what to do in these situations. I can speak for myself, if I was still playing, I would have to take in account that I have a family, I have four daughters and a wife. I have to be here with them for the long haul, it would be a heavy option to weigh, but again it’s Football, it’s America’s greatest game...”

What made you want to start your own training program?

It’s funny because I was never thinking about doing anything like this at all. I was just in a process after I retired, thinking what’s next? I was still working out and trying to stay in good shape, and looking and feeling good about myself, so I started hashtagging McCluster fit, every time I would do a workout.

People were reaching out to me asking, ‘Hey are you a trainer now? Do you train? Can I get a one on one session?’ And at first, I was like, ‘Nah I don’t train, I’m just trying to keep myself in shape.’ Maybe two weeks went by and everyone kept asking me the same questions and finally I said, ‘Know what this may be something I want to tap into!’ Because it’s my passion, I've always been that guy on the field who was a leader, to be that spark, to make those guys believe in themselves even if they don’t believe in themselves.

So, I started doing that, studying for it, I got certified to be a personal trainer, from then, January to now, business has been booming, things are going . I really enjoy it, I am able to bring the same energy my whole career, my whole life, Football, and still be connected in a way in doing that. But taking it a step further, off the field, making someone feel better about themselves and be happy and healthy, so McCluster Fit is my brand and I am going all the way with it!

Do you feel like a lot of athletes underappreciate the training that is necessary to succeed and perform at their best?

Yeah, I think it can be, at the end of the day we want to go out there in front of the fans and in front of the cameras and turn it on and turn it off when we want to. Training and preparing is just as important as going out there and playing the game, you can’t go out there and not know what you’re doing, if you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll be sitting right here where I am, on the sideline, on the bench right.

What I try to teach my athletes who I do train, of course I train them the Football aspect, the game aspect, but I teach them a lot about life. A lot of the pain and experiences I went through, I want to give them the raw and uncut so when they are faced with any type of adversity, they have some sort of answer.

Go to school, go to work, hold yourself accountable, hold your teammate accountable, stuff like that on and off the field. Football will take care of itself, but the off the field stuff, being a stand-up guy. Your character will take you a long way, I preach to them, ‘Hey I didn’t get here by just raw talent, I had to go out there and I had to do that extra studying, being that guy who is going to show up and lead by example.

Just trying to do the best you can do and carrying yourself the right way and I think that is where I am in my life right now, I try to things and model myself, actions speak louder than words...”

What was the recruiting process like for you?

As you know the storyline with me was always, I am too small. Too small to do this and do that, When I was in High School, I was actually a Two-Star, and that pissed me off! I never said anything about it, I just wanted to go out there and show, ‘Hey, this is what you are calling a Two-Star, I’m going to make you eat your words.’

Going into my Junior year I had a breakout year, my senior year was amazing. I had these schools coming in, the Florida's, the Florida States, the West Virginias and schools like that. I wanted to stay in Florida because I’m from Florida, my whole family is in Florida, that’s what I knew.

All of the Florida schools were like, ‘Hey, you’re kind of small to be a Running Back, have you thought about playing corner back or defense?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m better with the ball in my hands.’ And they were like, ‘Well we’re kind of skeptical of that, so if we bring you in, you’d be a kick returner or maybe a converted Running Back to Cornerback.’ So, I turned it down, I know within myself what I can do and in the process, I can show you better than I can tell you.

Then Ole Miss came in, I was committed to Southern Florida because my first child was born and I was seventeen coming straight out of High School so, I was a baby raising a baby, not really knowing what to do, but I had to buckle down and do what’s best for me and my child. I was committed to South Florida in Tampa, I was staying home and Coach Ed Orgeron called me, the head coach of LSU, he was like, ‘Hey Dex, can we come on down and talk to you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s cool if you come down and talk, but my mind is made up.’ Which I thought at that time, so he came into my living room and met my family.

He had me so pumped up in the living room to play a game, just talking to me and imagining myself on that field and so I thought, I want to take a visit to Ole Miss. Went down to Ole Miss, not knowing what to expect, first time flying so I was scared the whole way there.

I get there with my Dad and I experienced everything, the coaches, the tradition, everything felt right. When I got back on that plane I said, ‘Dad, I know where I want to go.’ He said, ‘Where?’ I said, ‘I want to go to Ole Miss!’ And he said, ‘If that’s what you want, I’m behind you 100%!’ And it ended up being one of the best decisions of my career, obviously the rest is history man, the rest is history.”

You were extremely versatile at Ole Miss. Talk about how that helped you as a player

“I’m glad you said that, to all the athletes out there, the more you can do, the better off you can be! I never thought about playing receiver, but again, back to Ed Orgeron, he said, ‘We have a Running Back already but if you come down here, you will have a chance to compete as a starter, but as a receiver.’

Yeah that’s me I don’t want to go up there and sit out, I want to get thrown in the fire right now, because that’s the type of person I am, I knew I could make the cut if I was given the opportunity. Me learning receiver and already having the Running Back position down and I had never learned kick return or punt return, but I was and athlete so I could pretty much play anywhere.

Me learning that at Ole Miss and being able to go to the next level in the NFL, and not being able to miss a beat. If they put me at slot receiver, I could run routes like a receiver and I could run the ball just like a Running back.

I mean it helped me out full circle and I was not a Running Back who would get pounded every time, I wasn’t the biggest guy, I’m not the biggest guy, but me being interchangeable being able to do this and do that, here and there, I think that is why my career lasted as long as it did...”

How was your Senior Season in your eyes?

“Ka-Boom! It went crazy man! My first two years Ed Orgeron was the coach and then Houston Nutt came over for my last two and then Danny Nutt the coolest guy I’ve ever met in my life, he saw me, I was playing more receiver before they got there at Ole Miss, he saw me running in the spring and he said, ‘Hey Clust, have you ever played Running Back before?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, my whole life.’ And he was like, ‘I’m going to talk to my brother and we are going to get you in that backfield.’

So, once they started handing me the rock I don’t think they ever put me at receiver again! Maybe once or twice, but they wanted to hand me that ball and get it in my hands early. Again, just being interchangeable and have that in my background and my senior season went crazy.

I don’t know if you guys know but with Covid, it was supposed to be in May, I am getting inducted into the Cotton bowl Hall of Fame, yeah it’s going to be pretty cool, whenever this Covid crap is done, if you want to fly down to Dallas it’s free, come to Dallas’s stadium and get that exclusive interview!”

What was the combine like for you? What thoughts and emotions were going through your head?

“I think, that my forty time wasn’t too good at the combine, that’s that natural competitiveness in me. When you are running a forty and you start and you stumble or slip, you can stop and rerun it. But, the competitiveness in me, when I ran it and I was kind of off, I was like, I still have enough speed to still pull out a good time, but I was not happy with that time.

My field work spoke for itself, getting in and out of my cuts, it was great. I did get an opportunity to run my forty again at my pro day, which I was a lot faster and I felt a lot better about it, but I felt good, I was one of the smallest Running Backs there at 173, but I bench pressed 225, twenty times I believe, that was more than some of the lineman there that year. I felt really good about that because they said I was too small and I showed them that I pack a mighty punch...”

What was your “Welcome to the NFL Moment?”

My welcome to the NFL was actually a good moment, I’ll tell you my second welcome to the NFL moment with Ray Lewis and all of those guys, I’ll get to that in a minute. Going into camp, I am a charismatic kind of guy, I fit in anywhere I go, because I am going to be me no matter what. Being that charismatic guy and being on the field, the way I work hard, the way I focus, if they send a Linebacker up in the A-gap, yeah I’m a rookie but I still am going to the hole like I’ve been there before, because that’s who I am.

I was cool with them, I earned their respect real early and again in training camp you get the rookies to get up and maybe sing their alma mater and do that stuff. I’m a stand-up guy so when I get called up, I’m going to stand up and do it, they got bored of that because they realized I like getting up in a crowd and doing stuff like that and I got passed that.

My first NFL game was against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football, I’m telling everybody to watch this, the whole world is tuned in! I’m sitting on the sideline and Javier Arenas was our punt returner and I think he was struggling that game, I can’t really remember, so I saw our head coach talk to the special teams coach and say, ‘Hey, I want to see McCluster return one.’ When I heard him say that, my heart went to my feet. I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ I hadn’t returned a punt, the whole year, it was the first game of the season and I hadn’t returned a punt all game and I was thinking just catch the ball, I don’t care if I don’t gain a yard, just catch the ball.

I get out there and it is raining a little bit, I'm freaking out, my gloves are wet, I’m rubbing the inside of my thighs so my gloves are dry,. Boom! The punt comes up, once I caught it and I had room, made one guy miss and that was my iconic 94 yard first touchdown, on Monday Night Football, in my first game, that was kind of my welcome to the NFL moment.

After the game I called everybody, ‘Hey you see this? You see that? Yeah I did that!’ Fast forward later in the year, it was a playoff game, I made the playoffs in my rookie year. We were playing the Baltimore Ravens, it was Ed Reed at first, Matt Cassell was the Quarterback, he drops back, I wasn’t open but Matt kind of panicked and threw it to me and I knew I was going to get hit.

When I caught it Ed Reed came at me, you can probably find it on YouTube, it felt worse than it looked. So, he hit me and boom I caught the ball, but I ran to the sidelines afterwards. My whole chest, I couldn’t feel it, I knew the camera was going to be on me, because it was after a big hit, when you get blown up, the camera is in your grill.

I didn’t want to move my mouth, so I leaned over to coach and said, ‘Hey coach?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, What’s up?’ ‘Coach I can’t feel my chest,’ And he was like, ‘What do you mean? Do you want to play?’ I was like, ‘Yeah I want to play just give me till halftime.’ I didn’t want to move my lips, because the cameras was on me and I didn’t want them to see what I was saying.

We get into halftime and I was shot with some Novocain, I was good to go. Maybe four plays after halftime, I get a handoff and I was going up the gut and Ray Lewis, the stupid and competitiveness in me was like, ‘I’m going to run head on and see what I can do, I ran fool speed, dropped my head and boom! The ball went one way and I went the other way. Coach called me over and he was cursing me out and I was like man welcome to the NFL, I thought I had it made when I scored that 94 yarder, but it’s a different ball game when you get to the playoffs. I learned it early, and that was my welcome to the NFL moment good and bad.”

Talk about your time with the Kansas City Chiefs specifically coaching changes and different schemes

My time with the chiefs was amazing, I never wanted to leave, I hated to leave, I wanted to stay, but it’s a business and I felt at the time I was worth more than they wanted to bring me in for, I had to make a decision for my family. I can honestly say that was the best organization I played for overall.

The Kansas City Chiefs, as far as the fanbase. Back to the coaches, we had so many, we had Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel as an interim head coach and then here comes Andy Reid.

All of them were different in their own ways, Todd Haley was more laid back, chill, Romeo Crennel was very chill, it took a lot to get him riled up, but when Andy Reid cam over, he is an offensive minded genius! He can have ten to twelve star athletes on the team and he can find a way for them all to eat and it’s great.

His motto was hey deuce-deuce, I want to see you go out there and show your personality, I want to see you dancing I know you got some dance moves. He lets you play free, if you watch those guys play, they’re having fun, he has a way of not putting all that pressure on, just go out there and play Football and be yourself and while you’re doing it, do some dance moves so I can try and do it in the next meeting.

That’s the type of guy he was, all of them were great head coaches, they all had different ways of approaching things, but Andy Reid, I really enjoyed my one year with him, he really put me in a position to show my true skill.”

What was your pro bowl experience like? 

Yeah, it was the last year in Hawaii, it was amazing! I got the chance to take my whole family, my Mom, my Dad, my Wife, my Mother-in-law, and nephew, everyone got to experience that moment. It was great, it was a lot of money to get everybody out there, but the good thing about the Pro Bowl is if you win or lose, you get a nice sum of money, I kind of got that back in return.

It wasn’t just about the money it was about the experience overall, it was amazing my Father actually proposed to my Mother while we were in Hawaii, that was kind of an unexpected turn.

I was happy to make that moment come true, but funny story with that, it was the first time being in the Pro Bowl, all of the guys that had been there before knew how practices work, it really isn’t like a practice, it’s more of a jog through. Here I am at my first Pro Bowl, tying my cleats real tight and I forget who it was, but someone walked over to me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Man I'm getting ready for practice.’ He said, ‘Man we aren’t here to practice, we are here to goof around!’ And I was like, ‘For real?’ So long story short I got used to that real quick, I was hyped up and ready to go out there and show what I got.

After I saw how it was run I thought it was chill. Hawaii was amazing I got to experience something I never thought in a million years I'd be able to experience, in Hawaii. Being able to bring my wife and family was a dope experience.”

How was your experience with the Mass Pirates?

I ain’t going to lie, it was the dopest experience, because it wasn’t about how many people were in the stands, it brought me back to the love of the game, the experience of the game.

It kind of gets lost in translation when you play in the league so long, it’s a cutthroat league. It was probably my sixth year in the league, I was like, ‘Man it doesn’t feel the same anymore,’ I was in the meeting rooms and I just wanted to go home to my family, I was getting that same excitement, I loved everything before that, but it just wasn’t the same excitement for me. 

Going up there brought back the kid in me, all the dancing and just having fun man and hanging out doing whatever. I think that kind of helped me find my second career, because I became that mentor, as soon as I walked in, I didn’t walk in like, ‘Hey I’m Dexter McCluster, the NFL guy and Pro Bowler,” I walked in like, ‘Hey what's up man I’m Dex.’ A lot of guys were like, ‘Man this is so weird, I used to watch you,’

Even some of the coaches, same thing. I think when I got in there and the head coach and I think Mardy Gillyard, I forget who it was, they were watching film and I didn’t know it was the Head Coach, because I didn’t meet anybody. He was like, ‘Oh we got Dexter McCluster!’ I don’t act like that, I’m just Dexter, I asked someone, ‘Who was that?’ And he was like, ‘That’s the Head Coach.’ And I was like, ‘For real? He was acting like a fan.’ No disrespect, that’s my guy, but it was kind of cool.

Some of the guys, being that mentor, asked me questions like, ‘What did it take to get there? What was it like?’ Me being able to give them the answer and give them some things I've been through my career and still giving them advice, some of those guys are still using it as a platform for the NFL.

I think just my presence being there, I mean I didn’t have the best stats there and all that, I didn’t care, because I was out there for the love of the game and being around the guys. Seeing other guys do their thing, that’s what I got off on down there.

So, going back to what I said, about my second career, being that mentor, I was able to realize I am a motivator and get these people to believe, I got something special here and that’s what kind of helped me finish my last year..."

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