AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football fans will be ready this Saturday night to see players such as Jarrett Stidham, Nick Coe, T.D. Moultry and Big Kat Bryant make their team debuts against Georgia Southern.
But if you polled Auburn players to see which debuting teammate they want to see the most, another one would be a popular answer — sophomore cornerback Jamel Dean.
“I’m ready for him to play probably more than he is,” fellow sophomore cornerback Javaris Davis said earlier this month. “I’ve been ready to see him play, too, because he’s a great player.”
AUBURN MAILBAG: How to attack Week 1, players to watch, erasing the Kick 6
Those feelings extend past the secondary, too, and into the wide receivers who match up against Dean every day at practice.
“We all agree that we want him to play, because we’re tired of, you know,” sophomore receiver Darius Slayton said, hinting at the frustrations of facing off with the 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive back. “We all know he’s a really good player. … I’m really excited for him to play.”
Dean’s debut Saturday night inside Jordan-Hare Stadium has been long-awaited — even more so than the ones for Stidham, Coe and any of the Tigers’ highly touted freshmen.
The Cocoa, Fla., native committed to play college football at Ohio State in 2013, his junior season. That year, he tore his ACL and meniscus. A year later, he re-tore the meniscus in the same knee before a high school all-star game.
When Dean arrived in Columbus in January 2015 to become an early-enrolling Buckeye, he wasn’t cleared by Ohio State’s medical staff. Dean’s former high school coach accused Ohio State of pushing Dean out due to oversigning. Urban Meyer denied the accusation.
CB Jamel Dean, who transferred from Ohio State: "At first, I honestly thought that my football career was over…"
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) March 26, 2016
Dean then sought a second opinion from world-renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who cleared him to play football in the summer of 2015. By that point, Dean was out the door and headed to Auburn, where he was recruited by former Florida coaches Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson.
Dean never got the chance to play for the two at Auburn, as they left for South Carolina toward the end of a 2015 season in which the corner had to sit due to transfer rules. Still, Dean stayed on the Plains, where he rose the depth chart to a starting cornerback job heading into the final month of the 2016 preseason.
Then it happened again — another knee injury, one that would keep him off the field for the entire season.
“It was a difficult time for me, knowing that I had to suffer through that injury again,” Dean said. “But I just put that behind me.”
Dean recovered from his third knee injury in four years in time for the Tigers’ 2017 fall camp. Being back on the field was a delight for Dean, who spent nearly a year away from full participation.
“It was real exciting for me, especially the first day of fall camp,” Dean said. “That part was what I liked the most. That was probably the happiest I’ve been in a long time.”
He is listed as a co-starter with Javaris Davis at cornerback opposite Carlton Davis, another long-armed Florida product who thrives on being physical with receivers.
“I’m proud of everything with everything he’s overcame with the transfers and the injuries,” Carlton Davis said. “That dude just keeps fighting. He’s a fighter. I can’t wait to see him play this season.”
Auburn DC Kevin Steele on expectations for CB Jamel Dean: "To be a dominant player and to do his job. … He's long, he's physical."
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) August 15, 2017
Count Auburn coach Gus Malzahn as another member of the program who is eager to see No. 12 take the field.
“He was able to have a solid fall camp, and he’s a guy that I think has gotten better and better,” Malzahn said this week. “And I know he’s hungry to get out there and play, missing last year and redshirting the year before. But he’s a very talented young man, and I’m very excited to watch him.”
Even if Dean doesn’t crack the starting lineup ahead of Javaris Davis on Saturday against Georgia Southern, Auburn will count on him to contribute in a big way this fall.
“I think Dean has came along really good,” senior safety Stephen Roberts said. “Injuries are always tough on people. I think he has built our trust and knows what to do to get out there and play. That’s what he’s been doing all camp.”
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele called him a “move around guy” last week, as he has the ability to play cornerback, safety and the star/nickel back position. His versatility, along with Jeremiah Dinson, gives the Tigers the opportunity to play four cornerbacks at the same time in certain packages.
Dean said he would love to hear his name called out in the starting lineup Saturday inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. But he’s willing to play any role after three knee injuries, an unexpected transfer, several defensive back coach changes and a couple of long years of waiting.
“[Starting] would mean a lot to me,” Dean said. “But I just want to play. That’s all. I just want to play my first college game. I’ve done missed two years of it.”