Former Tampa Bay area standouts await NFL draft day

Former Largo standout Dexter McCluster of Mississippi, front, became the first SEC player to post 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season. Now he is expecting to hear his name called on the second day of the draft.

Associated Press

Former Largo standout Dexter McCluster of Mississippi, front, became the first SEC player to post 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season. Now he is expecting to hear his name called on the second day of the draft.

Dexter McCluster has always been more Houdini than halfback.

Whenever the former Largo High and University of Mississippi runner has been trapped by a cluster of defenders, he has invariably wriggled out of their reach, leaving a trail of disbelieving players and fans.

Javier Arenas has always been able to make people miss.

The former Robinson High standout started at cornerback for the University of Alabama, but he made his mark more in the return game, where he could wend around the field as if operated by a joystick.

But if there's one thing the two players have been unable to avoid, it's questions about their height.

McCluster is 5 feet 8, Arenas 5-9. They are a matched set of minnows, card-carrying members of the runt fraternity in this year's draft class.

Though teams have looked at height — or lack thereof — as if it were a physical handicap, McCluster and Arenas have been able to shine because they are a study in little moves made right. And both could be the highest bay area selections in next week's draft.

"Size always seems to be the topic of discussion," McCluster said. "But it hasn't been an issue lately. It's definitely something that hasn't stopped me yet.

"I just want to have an opportunity, and I'm not going to let anyone down once I get that chance."

McCluster, who had individual workouts with the Patriots and Chiefs at Largo High this week, is projected as a mid- to late-second-round pick.

Arenas has been bothered by a pulled hamstring and will most likely go in the third round.

Their size has not hurt them because they measure their success on the field.

Last season both put up big numbers. McCluster became the first player in SEC history to have more than 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving in the same season. Arenas led the nation with 650 punt-return yards and set a school record with six returns for touchdowns in his career.

They also have been able to raise their profiles because size prejudice is starting to shrink in the NFL. Teams are spreading out on offense, which puts a premium on speed and quickness to execute and stop plays, making small guys a big part of the game plan.

"All my life people have said that I wouldn't be able to make it because I was too small for high school or too small for college," McCluster said. "There's always going to be doubters. But I just want to show it on the field."

Two other bay area stars, Riley Cooper and Terrell Skinner, are projected to be taken in the draft.

Cooper, a former star receiver at Clearwater Central Catholic and one of Tim Tebow's favorite targets at the University of Florida, is predicted to go in the third round.

"With his size — and he ran better than people thought he would — and he has the ability to stretch the field more than people gave him credit for," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said of Cooper. "He's a competitive kid. I think for sure third or fourth round for him."

Skinner, a former Boca Ciega standout who was the St. Petersburg Times' 2004 Pinellas County Player of the Year, starred as a defensive back at Maryland and is most likely to go in the sixth or seventh round.

McCluster is projected as the highest local pick. He will celebrate his selection with family and friends at a draft party April 23 at the Venue in Clearwater.

"It hasn't set in yet that I'm about to be drafted," McCluster said. "It's a childhood dream, and I can't believe it's about to happen."

. fast facts

Local talent

Tampa Bay area players selected in the first two rounds of the draft the past 10 years:

Brodrick Bunkley Chamberlain Eagles 2006 1st

Reche Caldwell Jefferson Chargers 2002 2nd

Tim Carter Lakewood Giants 2002 2nd

Darren Howard Boca Ciega Saints 2000 2nd

D'Qwell Jackson Seminole Browns 2006 2nd

Michael Jenkins Leto Falcons 2004 1st

Mike Pearson Armwood Jaguars 2002 2nd

Ryan Pickett Zephyrhills Rams 2001 1st

Mike Williams Plant Lions 2005 1st

Former Tampa Bay area standouts await NFL draft day 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 12:15am]

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