McCluster: There's more to come

Running for 100 yards against just about any SEC defense is an accomplishment.

Running for 200 yards is spectacular.

But flirting with 300 yards ... when you’re 170 pounds soaking wet?

That’s the stuff that legends are made of, and Dexter McCluster is carving out a legendary senior season at Ole Miss.

Make that a legendary second half of his senior season.

“Phenomenal,” is the way Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt described McCluster following his school-record 282 rushing yards and school-record 324 all-purpose yards in last Saturday’s 42-17 win over Tennessee.

Some of the Vols’ defenders are probably still whiffing at No. 22 in their sleep.

“When you get in that zone, it’s like you’re the only one out there and cutting on air,” McCluster said. “I had an offensive line who was out there to prove a point, to dominate, and that’s what they did.

“But when you’re in that zone, every time you touch the ball, you know something good is going to happen.”

McCluster has been in “that zone” ever since Nutt came to him before the Arkansas game on Oct. 24 and told him they were moving him back to running back full time.

The Rebels entered the season thinking McCluster would be more valuable as a specialist, moving around from slot, to receiver, to running back, to quarterback in the “Wild Rebel” formation.

But McCluster wasn’t getting very many touches, and the Ole Miss offense was struggling.

So back to running back McCluster went, and he’s been a blur ever since.

In his last three games against SEC defenses, he’s rushed for 591 yards, totaled 787 all-purpose yards and scored six touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns have been from 32 yards or longer.

His 71-yard touchdown run against Tennessee was nothing short of magical.

Even McCluster admits, “That rates No. 1 in my book, to make that move and then cut back across the field knowing nobody’s going to catch you.”

Outside of Ole Miss and West Virginia, nobody really thought the 5-foot-8 McCluster had a prayer to survive on offense in college. After all, he came out of Largo, Fla., weighing 153 pounds.

But when you’re in that zone, every time you touch the ball, you know something good is going to happen.

-- Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster

Some of the Florida schools talked to him about possibly playing defense, but his mind was made up.

“I’m not a defensive guy and don’t see myself as a defensive guy,” McCluster said. “I’m more the guy that has to have the ball to make plays on the offensive side. Ole Miss and West Virginia were really pushing for me, really wanted me in the backfield and really believed in me.

“They didn’t look at my size, but looked a my playmaking abilities. Ole Miss stuck with me the whole time, and I knew this was the place for me.”

With three games remaining, counting the bowl, McCluster has a real shot at 1,000 yards.

That’s right, 1,000 yards. He now has 755 on the season.

Here’s a trivia question that ought to send the SEC historians scrambling: When’s the last time somebody weighing less than 180 pounds rushed for 1,000 yards in the SEC?

McCluster’s 282-yard explosion last Saturday was the 11th best rushing performance in SEC history.

Check out some of the names ahead of him -- Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith, Darren McFadden and Shaun Alexander.

In most cases, those guys outweighed McCluster by 40 or 50 pounds.

"That's very important to me, to prove to people that my size is not a weakness," said McCluster, who still watches highlights of Barry Sanders to get him pumped before games. "For me to go out there and take that many handoffs (25 carries against the Vols) and still be fresh, still be durable and still be able to make plays ... just shows that you can never count the little man out."

And don’t think for a minute that these last few games have taken a toll on McCluster.

He says he’s fresher now than he was this time a year ago.

“Oh, there’s more to come,” McCluster said. “As long as I‘ve got my legs, as long as I’ve got my heart and as long as I’ve got the Lord, there’s more to come.”

Memo to the rest of the SEC: Catch him if you can.