In his 12 years at the helm of the football program at Largo High School, Rick Rodriguez has sent a good number of players on to major college football, and a few have even advanced all the way to the NFL. On Sunday, two of those former Packers will be playing at Raymond James Stadium when the Buccaneers take on the Chiefs.
Leonard Johnson, a rookie cornerback with the Buccaneers, was a prep sophomore in 2005 when Dexter McCluster, now a Kansas City wide receiver, earned first-team 5A all-state honors. McCluster would go on to Mississippi and Johnson, after collecting his own round of high school honors, would head off to Iowa State. Sunday’s game will thus be a Packer reunion of sorts, and the first time that Johnson and McCluster will be on opposing sidelines since they were playing youth sports in Pinellas County. It also presents something of a dilemma for the two players’ former mentor.
“I was talking to my coach yesterday, Coach Rodriguez, and I was asking him which one of us he was going to cheer for,” said Johnson after the Buccaneers’ Thursday practice. “He said he couldn’t cheer for either one; he hopes I do well and hopes he does also.”
That may not be entirely possible, at least on plays where both young men are on the field. If the Chiefs choose to get McCluster more involved in the passing attack – he has just five catches the last three weeks after racking up 10 in the first two games – and Johnson is part of the Bucs’ nickel or dime defense, the two might meet in a few zero-sum situations.
“I’m excited to see what he’s going to do out there,” said Johnson. ” I’d like to see him before the game and hopefully chat with him a little bit before we go out and compete against each other.”
Johnson said he sought out McCluster’s guidance to prepare for the 2012 draft and to pick an agent. (McCluster was a second-round pick in 2010; Johnson signed with his hometown team after surprisingly slipping through the draft unselected.) The younger Largo star said he has purposely held off on texting or calling his former teammate this week in order to maintain a competitive edge.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing him; it’s been a while since I’ve seen him,” said Johnson. “I’ll just stick with the game plan, and if I see him before the game, I’ll say, ‘What’s up?’ and catch up a little bit, and then compete later.”
McCluster has 15 catches for 148 yards plus one five-yard carry this season. Johnson has one stop on special teams but has drawn some playing time in the secondary.