Jamel Dean is entering his third season as a college athlete, but has yet to play a snap.
It has been a long road, to say the least, for the former all-state cornerback from Florida. Dean was a two-position standout at Cocoa High in central Florida earning all-state honors twice as a receiver and as a defensive back. Coming out of high school, he was one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation ranked No. 32 by 247Sports and No. 37 by Rivals. He committed to play for Ohio State in 2015.
After redshirting for a semester and being declared medically ineligible, Dean decided to transfer to Auburn for the 2016 season.
He looked poised for a breakout season and was projected to start for the Tigers before suffering a season-ending knee injury during fall camp, the same injury that gave him problems throughout his high school career.
Now Dean says he is back full-speed and better than ever.
“It was a difficult time for me having to suffer through that injury again, but I just put that behind me now," Dean said. "I'm just continuing where I left off at from last year.”
With game number one right around the corner, saying Dean is eager to get on the field for the first time since high school would be an understatement.
“It was really exciting for me," Dean said about getting on the practice field this fall. "Especially the first day of fall camp, that was probably the happiest I’ve been in a long time … (Starting) would mean a lot to me, but I just want to play. That's all.
"I just want to play my first college game. I've missed two years of it."
Dean finds himself in a similar situation this year, making his presence felt. He is once again expected to start the season at corner for the Tigers, due in large part to his freaky combination of size and athleticism. At 6-feett-2-inches and 215 pounds, Dean has a frame that rivals some linebackers in college football. Couple that with a 4.28-second, 40-yard dash. Anyone would be hard pressed to find a better option at corner in the SEC.
"He has certainly been blessed with size, very good top-end speed," defensive backs coach Greg Brown said. "He puts in the time. He works it, and he understands what the scheme is asking him both schematically and technique-wise, what is required to play corner at a top level."
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele expects Dean to “be a dominant player and do his job" and sees what an asset he could prove to be for this secondary.
"Playing corner is a hard job. It's a hard job in this league, and it's a hard job at the next league up," Steele said. "He's long, he's physical. If he gets in front of you and gets his hands on you, he can make that clock that the quarterback has been affected by, how the guy released off him and messed up the timing of the route combinations. He's really, really good at that because he is so long and strong, and he's really, really smart. That's there, and then he has the physical ability to do it."
In 2016, Auburn’s secondary gave up, on average, just over 229 passing yards per game, which was ranked 67th in the country. Dean believes that he can be the impact player that can improve this defensive unit moving forward.
“It’s a real advantage for me because receivers don’t really go against corners my size," Dean said. "Going against me makes things much harder because you have to change the way you release … It’s going to throw off the timing of the offense so hopefully that will give our defensive lineman enough time to put pressure on them.”
Dean described himself as an “aggressive” corner and has already impressed teammates and coaches alike with his play during fall practice. In Auburn’s first scrimmage of fall camp, he had an interception return for a touchdown and numerous wide-outs have pinned him as one of the toughest match-ups to lineup against. The entire Auburn team is just as excited as Dean is to finally see him play his first college football game.
“We all agree that we want him to play,” Auburn receiver Darius Slayton said. “We all know he's a really good player. No one else has gotten a chance to see him play because he came in and had to sit out a year, and then he got injured.”
Dean’s journey has had its up and downs, but today he finds himself less than a week away from running out of the tunnel in Jordan-Hare, and if all goes as planned, starting his first football game in two years.
“I’m ready for him to play probably more than he is,” said Javaris Davis, Dean’s teammate in the secondary. “I’ve been ready to see him play too because he’s a great player.”