'He knows he's a baller': McGlothern's swagger lifts those around him

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Friday, September 23, 2022
Arkansas cornerback Dwight McGlothern (3) celebrates after intercepting a pass during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Fayetteville.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas cornerback Dwight McGlothern (3) celebrates after intercepting a pass during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — When Dwight McGlothern arrived at Klein Oak (Texas) High School ahead of the 2019 football season, seemingly everyone around Jason Glenn was talking about his program’s new star-caliber player.

Glenn, then the coach of the Panthers, whose football stadium sits north of Houston and roughly a 90-minute drive from Texas A&M’s campus in College Station, was not well-versed in the first few years of McGlothern’s prep career or the national recruiting love being thrown his way. The early word was that the still-budding athlete was a talent who could greatly impact both sides of the football.

But at cornerback he was a natural.

Glenn was already firm in his belief that Klein Oak already had quality cover corners. McGlothern, who according to MaxPreps had intercepted 11 passes at 2 schools in the last 3 varsity seasons, was asked if wide receiver piqued his interest.

Before McGlothern’s first practice at Klein Oak ended, Glenn knew he had struck gold.

“He ran an out route and the ball was kind of behind him as he’s running toward the sideline,” Glenn recalled. “He kind of had to jump, flip his hips and reach back to catch it. I looked at my offensive coordinator at the time and thought, like, ‘This dude is a receiver. He’s playing receiver.’

“I had some pretty decent receivers. When he came in he made those receivers so much better because of his swag and the way he played. He brought the receiving corps to another level. I think it was a level that they were afraid to get to. He absolutely brought them there.”

McGlothern was a star in his lone season at the school, leading the team in receiving and interceptions (4). Offensively, he caught 66 passes, 18 of the team’s 25 passing touchdowns and accounted for 1,307 receiving yards.

Add in kickoff, punt and interception return yards, McGlothern averaged 133.1 all-purpose yards per game. At receiver, he logged a long catch of at least 30 yards in 11 of 13 games, and in 6 games that number topped 50 yards.

McGlothern was held out of the end zone just twice that season. Every other week he put on a show for those in attendance. On the Panthers’ sideline, a light was cast on his personality and the swagger Glenn was fond of seeing.

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His post-score celebrations were must-see events.

Glenn welcomed those moments of joy and the antics that brought smiles to fans and players on his roster. “Keep it on the sideline” was his only rule to the player nicknamed “Nudie.”

“He scored a touchdown one time, gave the ball to the ref, kept running and he went up to the starting line on the track, and he got there and put his hand down then starting running down the track,” Glenn said with a burst of laughter. “That started it.”

McGlothern’s initial routine was such a hit that others quickly got involved. After a touchdown the following week, a relay team was assembled.

“He scored and ran to the sideline and they were all ready,” Glenn said. “Nudie took off down the track and there was another receiver maybe 10 yards from him. He acted like he passed that receiver the baton, then that receiver grabbed it and ran it to another receiver on the track.”

When using the track that surrounded Klein Oak’s home field as the stage for those celebrations finally ran its course, McGlothern had to become more creative. Another scene singed into Glenn’s memory is the game of leap frog that broke out after McGlothern added six points to the scoreboard.

What the coach appreciated about the performances is that McGlothern, a clearly superior athlete to many of his teammates, brought others along for the rides rather than turning them into solo acts. His energy, Glenn said, was infectious, felt throughout the school and the team’s receivers, and lifted the play of the position as a whole.

“I think it’s in him. He knows he’s a baller,” said Glenn, who also once watched the defensive back dance with Klein Oak’s principal after a score. “He knows that, and with that it comes from him knowing that he can make others better. I guess that swagger kind of went along with his celebrations. When everyone saw his celebrations, the place went crazy.

“I think it’s that swagger that can make everybody else better, and he knows it. The energy and the ability to make others better around him just by the way he plays and he practices, but also his personality, he makes people better around him.”

Since spring drills when asked about the LSU transfer, Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman and teammates have relayed much of the same. McGlothern is also a gamer, Pittman said after a Week 1 interception against Cincinnati that was returned 51 yards.

His two interceptions are tied for most in the SEC and he is tied for third with four passes defended. It should come as no surprise McGlothern is the Razorbacks’ top-rated cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 76.4. The mark is No. 6 in the league among those at the position with at least 95 snaps played.

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His 79.5 coverage grade leads all corners in the SEC.

“I know when we played him last year, when we played LSU and he was over on the other side, he made some really good plays against us,” Pittman said. “He’s played ball. I trust him. I’m happy he’s here, and I think he’ll just continue to get better and better.

“He seems to really enjoy it here, and he’s a great kid to be around.”

In the same way great confidence is in McGlothern, so is playmaking. At Klein Oak, he was a true two-way standout, a player more than capable of slowing an opponent’s star receiver all the while serving as an offensive catalyst.

In late September 2019, Klein Oak defeated Conroe (Texas) High 29-25 to move to 3-1 thanks to the effort and determination of McGlothern. With his team facing fourth-and-26 after the offense twice shot itself in the foot on a key drive, Glenn saw McGlothern’s want-to rise to the surface.

Everyone in the stadium knew the football was coming the receiver’s way. It was Klein Oak’s best chance to keep hope alive. The team’s quarterback, facing heavy pressure, dodged a would-be tackler then took a hit as he lofted a pass that looked more like a punt. In that moment, the game appeared over.

“But Nudie came from the middle of the field,” Glenn said, “and there was nothing but the opponents in this area, and he ran all the way to the sideline, like 30-40 yards. He jumped in front of all those kids and grabbed the ball for a first down. We went on to score on that drive.”

Defensively, he faced one of his toughest tests in a playoff game against Rockwall, which featured Ohio State star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba on the perimeter. Smith-Njigba had 7 catches for 95 yards and 1 touchdown in his team’s 37-27 win.

McGlothern held him to three catches for under 50 yards, Glenn estimated, when the two were matched up. Against powerhouse Allen High the previous week, Smith-Njigba erupted for 15 catches, 258 yards and 5 touchdowns. Glenn’s star held his own.

“He manned Smith up the whole game then went over and started for us on offense,” Glenn said. “That kid is a baller. He’s a really good receiver. Nudie did it all by himself and covered him up the whole game. What he can bring to a football team, everybody knows he’s athletic as hell, but his FBI – football intelligence – is extremely high.

“He has instincts and football IQ. It’s so natural to him. It’s easy for him, it really is. When you look at him, people look at the measurables and he’s got really good speed, he’s long, he’s athletic. But look at him diagnose routes.”

Glenn speaks with great confidence when projecting McGlothern’s future. He played college football at Texas A&M, where he was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2000. He played in the NFL with four franchises from 2001-07. He has an understanding of all it takes to become and remain a pro.

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In his lifetime, there have been a select few players who Glenn immediately knew would one day play in the NFL. One was Ed Oliver, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and the other was Louisville receiver Tyler Hudson, who also played at Klein Oak.

McGlothern is in that class, too. Glenn compares him to 11-year pro and longtime Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, but faster.

“His football IQ is amazing,” he said. “He’s going to play on Sundays, I guarantee you that. My brother (Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) played 15 years in the NFL and I played seven, so I can kind of see that deal. He’s going to be one of those dudes who plays on Sundays.”

Pittman views McGlothern, who had a hamstring injury against Missouri State, as the prototype cornerback in today’s game. His ball skills help set him apart.

Opponents this year have completed just 3 of 14 passes for 19 yards when targeting McGlothern’s assignment, per PFF. The longest completion against him is 12 yards.

PFF numbers also show he allowed two or fewer catches in a game six times last season at LSU, including against the Aggies. Texas A&M completed 2 passes for 31 yards on 5 targets.

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher remembers the corner well.

“He’s very instinctive,” Fisher said. “He’s long, he’s athletic, he has really good ball skills, he can see the ball, judge the ball, uses his length and size to get up on you and man you. For a big guy, he plays off coverage very well, like the first pick he had in the Cincinnati game.

“A lot of guys who are big and long have a harder time playing off. He doesn’t. He’s done a really nice job.”

He has brought a level of attitude and flair to the cornerback position at Arkansas that had been missing for a while.

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