Everywhere former standout Dexter McCluster, star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, went on Saturday, a crowd of kids was sure to follow.
After spending some time with the diminutive dynamo, it quickly becomes apparent that McCluster’s easygoing nature and down-to-earth attitude make him naturally accessible to kids and adults alike.
McCluster, an undersized (5'8") player who went on to star at Mississippi before being drafted by the Chiefs in 2010, brought his humble personality and dazzling football talents back to where it all began. He hosted the , a free event for children ages eight to 17 that took place on April 23 at the Ridgecrest YMCA in Largo.
“It started here in Largo - Largo Junior Packers all the way to Largo High School to Ole Miss and now on to the NFL,” McCluster said at the start of the day. “It’s been a long journey, and I’ve been blessed. And now I want use my platform to bless others.”
About 115 kids signed up for the football clinic. They didn't want to miss a chance to experience being taught drills by McCluster as well as numerous other volunteers, including Northside Christian football coach Bob Dare and McCluster’s father, Mark.
In addition to football skills, McCluster was also there to teach life lessons, emphasizing staying in school and never giving up on your dreams.
"Coaches used to say I was too small, but I proved them wrong. Sit in school, get your work done and you can do anything you want," he told the assembled mass of children.
The large turnout was impressive considering that last year the camp, formerly known as the Outreach Football Clinic, drew just 45 participants and McCluster only signed on to be the official host about two weeks ago.
“Dexter had attended the last two Outreach Clinics just on his own. But that program folded and the future of the camp was in doubt. To have him sign on as the official host has just been huge for us,” said Tanya Fazekas, event organizer.
The kids were broken up into age groups and rotated to five different stations that each focused on a different football drill. While some taught blocking and passing skills, McCluster concentrated on teaching what he does best – evading defenders by using speed and savvy open-field moves.
While volunteers served lunch to the kids, Dexter signed camp tee shirts, footballs, posters and other souvenirs. When he realized that all the kids didn't have items to be signed he went to his car and brought out a huge bag full of his football cards and specially printed autograph cards.
The whole crowd of kids followed him to the parking lot.
“It shows his roots and how he was raised,” said Gary Patterson, a Largo resident and Kansas City native,
McCluster showed his commitment to his community.
“He’s signing hundreds of autographs for these kids and he didn’t ask for anything in return. He’s a real person. There’s no front with him,” Patterson said.
McCluster plans on hosting the clinic for as long as it takes.
"It may never end. I love being a motivational speaker, I love using my platform in the NFL to help out," he said.