McCluster Looks to Bring More Speed, Professionalism to Pirates


The Massachusetts Pirates are a long way from the top and made a move to start digging themselves up to the surface.

In a post that shocked the arena football world, the last place Pirates announced arguably one of the best midseason signings in league history agreeing to terms with former NFL All-Pro Dexter McCluster.

McCluster, 30, has never played arena football. After his phone rang just days ago, he deliberated but then accepted the challenge of learning a new gridiron game.


“I got the call to come down here and I told [Jawad Yatim,] ‘You know what, let me talk to my wife about it and I’ll let you know tomorrow,'” McCluster said. “When I woke up that morning I said, ‘Take this opportunity’ because I’m a firm believer in when a door opens, I need to walk into it whether it’s good or bad.”

Since touching down in Massachusetts, McCluster has been in the ear of his former NFL colleague Mardy Gilyard. Having known him since his time at Kansas City, he hopes it will help him get acclimated quicker to the smaller field.


“[Kansas City] is actually where we got that bond, that brother bond,” McCluster said. “So coming down here and because of the player he is right now in the indoor league, it’s a plus for me because he can bring me along [quicker].”

Gilyard who had three touchdowns last week, saw the opportunity to pay it forward to McCluster after the new Pirate helped him back in their Kansas City days.

“He’s just been hungry to learn the game and just wanted to get with me not only just because we’re buddies and we haven’t seen each other in awhile, but because I’ve been successful [here],” Gilyard said. “When I got signed by Kansas City after being waived from the Jets, Dex was one of the first guys to show me the city, help me with my playbook, teaching me different things and it’s the same thing here and I’m team captain so it would be an injustice for me to not do whatever I can on my end to help a new wide receiver.”

The challenge does not have McCluster nervous, but enthused.


“I’m just excited about it,” McCluster said. “It’s a different city, different opportunity, at the end of the day I want to play the game that I love that’s it.”

When discussing adjustments with Gilyard, nothing has been off the table.

“We’ve been talking about plays, we’ve been talking about the wall, we’ve been talking about everything,” McCluster said. “It’s a plus for me to have somebody that I’m familiar with that can show me the game and show me the ropes man and get up to speed.”

McCluster has been around. He was drafted in the second round by the Kansas City Chiefs and immediately put his speed on display. In his rookie season, McCluster took a ball back 94 yards for a touchdown which is the longest scoring return in franchise history. He was selected as a Second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2013.

His experience at the sport’s highest level, he says is something that he can bring to help the team be a cut above the rest.

“I think first and foremost is bringing the professionalism here,” McCluster said. “Not saying it’s not here now, but showing the younger guys the way to be a pro, the way you have to attack practice, attack treatment, attack film studies, give it everything you got because you have to be uncommon in this game, you have to do the things that people don’t wanna do. So right now sitting at 1-4, you have to play with that chip on your shoulder that every play you have bring 100 percent no matter what.”

Pirates head coach Anthony Payton has seen that professionalism first hand in the first few meetings with his new running back. With McCluster, Payton says he has been nothing but a sponge absorbing every bit of knowledge he can.

“He walks into the headquarters and he’s the most humble guy you’ll ever see,” Payton said. “He comes in, everybody’s starstruck especially me and we’re sitting there talking to him and he just wants to sit there, talk with you, watch film with you. He’s a very approachable guy, the thing I’ve learned about all the NFL players I’ve been involved with, most of them are humble, they’re on TV a lot and it would seem like they have that stand offish attitude, the majority I’ve been around have always had a humble attitude and I believe that’s what makes them stick so long.”

Most running backs at around 30, hit the infamous ’30-year-old wall.’ A period in which once a back hits that age, they experience a steep decline in performance.

McCluster who turns 31 in August, says that is not the case for him.

“I still have the juice, the legs are feeling real good, I’m feeling good,” McCluster said. “I’m just ready to be here, ready to interact with my guys, just ready to show them what I can do.”

One player ecstatic to have McCluster in the huddle, his quarterback Sean Brackett.

“You gotta be [excited],” Brackett said. “I’ve talked to him a couple of times, he’s a big name, he’s played a lot of football, Pro Bowler, All-Pro, he’s another one of those guys like Mardy, where it’s just awesome to have him as a teammate to have that experience and have that leadership role, I’m excited to see how he does on the field.”

Though McCluster has played against the best, he has not had to deal with a wall and has been chewing the fat as much as he can with his new quarterback.

“What I’ve told him is that that wall is undefeated,” Brackett said. “It’s a lot quicker, a much faster pace, and it’s really about spacing, he’s a smart guy he knows how to do it off the field as far as watching film and trying to get better that way, but it’s completely different. You can watch all the film that you want, but it’s about experiencing it firsthand, he’s taken all the knowledge we’ve tried to give him and trying to take our experiences and try to show him what does and doesn’t work.”

McCluster opened up on what number he was going to wear with his new team. The same number he has worn to honor his father.

“I’m going back to my roots at No.22,” McCluster said. “My Dad was a high school running back standout, I went to that same high school and he went to college and he wore 22. When I was born he never went back to college, I wear that number for him to take that number to a different level and as of now I’ve been doing that.”


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