Malik Dear was a little nervous as he approached the travel roster posted on the eve of Mississippi State’s season opening game at Southern Miss.
The true freshman scanned the list and was delighted to see his name among those that would dress out in Week 1.
“It feels real good and is also an honor to play as a true freshman,” Dear said. “Most people get redshirted and have to wait a whole year.”
Dear helped his chances at early playing time by graduating from Murrah High School a semester early and enrolled at MSU in January. His early arrival also meant he would be able to participate in the Bulldogs spring practices.
“It kind of helped me that I came in January because I kind of know the offense and everything we’re trying to do,” Dear said.
Dear has appeared in all four games this season in a variety of roles. Although listed as a wide receiver on the roster, the Jackson native lines up in the backfield as well.
“Sometimes I tell people I’m a receiver and other times I tell them athlete,” Dear said. “Some plays I’ll motion into the backfield and get the ball out of the backfield. Sometimes I’ll run a little route or do a reverse or things like that. It’s very similar to what I did in high school. The only thing I don’t do is play quarterback.
“As long as the ball is in my hand, I don’t care where I play. If I could play tackle and still get the ball then I’d play tackle.”
The 5-foot-9, 220-pounder has caught six passes for 62 yards and carried twice for 19 yards on the year.
Dear was a consensus four-star prospect and one of the state’s most prized recruits last year. He concluded his high school career with 3,298 rushing yards, 2,410 receiving yards and 84 touchdowns scored. The U.S. Army All-American averaged 11.1 yards per carry and 19 yards a catch during his career.
But Dear admitted that the talent level he now faces on a daily basis far exceeds that at the prep level.
“The players are so much faster,” Dear said. “You can’t always get around the corners and sometimes you just have to get what you can get. It’s not like high school because it’s so much faster and the players are bigger.”
Dear earned scholarship offers from Alabama, Arkansas State, Florida, Ole Miss, Southern Miss and USC during the recruiting process but the closeness he felt with the Bulldogs made his collegiate choice an easy one.
“They just made me feel like family every time that I came here,” Dear said. “I just bonded with everybody. I’ve been happy here. I’ve been telling everybody I know that they need to come to Mississippi State.”