When Dexter McDougle started his freshman year at Stafford High School, he sought out quarterback Torrey Smith. Smith, now a wide receiver with the Ravens, was a senior, as high up the social order as you could be given his talent and destiny, which was a football scholarship to play at Maryland.
"The first thing he said was, ‘Hey Torrey, I'm going to be better than you,'” Smith recalled.
Things could've gone south pretty quickly, but Smith actually liked McDougle's confidence, which has a friendly optimism attached to it. That's part of the reason some of the New York Jets players mention the third-round cornerback as one of the most promising rookies despite the fact that he hasn't stepped onto the field for the team yet given a shoulder injury.
Smith -- who became a mentor for that brash newcomer -- thinks that McDougle has a bright future despite missing the last nine games of the season after shoulder surgery that left a c-shaped scar on his back.
"It's going to be a learning curve but he's so smart,” Smith said. "Not to knock anybody that [the Jets] have but playing against the team last year and knowing what Dexter is capable of, I think that he'll have a real chance to help the team this year. And being drafted by a guy like Rex Ryan, this guy knows defensive players, so I think that's this is a credit to Dexter that the coach would take a chance on him after they drafted a guy so highly last year.”
That guy was Dee Milliner, the ninth overall pick of the 2013 draft, who also arrived with a shoulder injury. Ryan worked hard to keep Milliner from being seen as a replacement for the just-departed Darrelle Revis, but he's not keeping comparisons to himself this time.
"[McDougle] won't let you catch a ball in walk-through, which reminds me of someone,” Ryan said.
That someone, Ryan later elaborated, is Revis.
"But he's really professional about his stuff,” Ryan said. "He knows what he's supposed to do, and again, sometimes when you put him out there, we'll see if some of the pieces fall out. That's what happens. Everybody thinks they know it and then they get out there in an 11-on-11 situation and something is missing. But he is really a sharp young man. And remember his experience now, after he was hurt he came back with the team and helped his guys out, helped his teammates out, but he also helped the coaches out, so maybe he has that perspective as well. But he seems like a very sharp young man and I think we'll all be excited to watch him compete when he finally gets that chance.”
Now Ryan has a pair of young corners in the 5-foot-10, 195-pound McDougle and Milliner, at 6-foot and 198 pounds. They may have similar frames, but style-wise McDougle is more aggressive and knows Ryan will get the most out of him.
"Rex is a defensive mastermind and uses his corners in multiple ways and I've been in multiple systems. That's why I fit in perfect here,” McDougle said.
All of this comes as no surprise to Chad Lewis, who coached both Smith and McDougle at Stafford. There, McDougle played defensive back and wide receiver, and even a little option quarterback. One game, McDougle caught a touchdown pass, had an interception and threw for another touchdown.
Lewis remembers how self-assured McDougle was from the start.
"That's kind of Dexter's personality,” Lewis said. "It's not cockiness but he believes in himself.”
That he can be brash and likeable is an art. But even that senior all the way back in high school found himself smiling when McDougle said he'd be a better player.
"That's good,” Smith said. "I want you to be.”