STARKVILLE — You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Malik Dear is a wide receiver.
Built more like a running back, the Mississippi State football rising sophomore stands 5-foot-9 and weighs in at 220 pounds, but he has found a niche as a Bulldog wideout.
But Dear wasn’t limited to one position while at Murrah High School. Along with receiver, he saw time at quarterback and running back. Moving forward, Dear could become a bigger part of the Bulldog offense in numerous roles.
“I think that I can do anything that I put my mind to,” Dear said. “If (coach Dan) Mullen wants me to go to quarterback, I’ll go to quarterback. If he wants me to go to running back or anything, I just want to play.”
Dear caught six passes for 67 yards and one touchdown and threw a 3-yard touchdown to quarterback Elijah Staley to help the Maroon team beat the White team 34-21 in MSU’s annual Maroon and White spring game at Davis Wade Stadium Saturday.
Dear caught a 38-yard touchdown from redshirt freshman Nick Tiano, who completed 8 of 13 passes for 99 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Dear hauled in the pass on the sideline and made a couple of moves to get by defenders and into the open field. He rushed into the end zone by himself.
Staley, who completed 5 of 11 passes for 48 yards, was wide open in the corner of the end zone as Dear came from the far end and caught a pitch on a designed wide receiver pass.
Although he didn’t rush the ball, Dear’s versatility was on show.
“Malik is great,” Staley said. “Malik can do everything. He’s one of those people that you can just look at him and know that if you get him the ball he’s going to make a play no matter where he’s at or what he’s doing.”
As a freshman, the Jackson native appeared in 11 games and caught 22 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 113 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown.
After graduating from Murrah early, Dear enrolled at MSU in January of 2015 and went through spring drills with MSU. Like with all freshmen, the transition from high school to the Southeastern Conference was not smooth and Dear said he saw that in the spring.
“When I got here I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It just blew me out of the way,” Dear said. “Now I feel like I was very prepared for it, I came out and worked hard and I knew what to expect when I came out this spring.
“It started slowing down sort of kind of towards the middle, towards the end (of last season) a little bit. That’s just what it is when you’ve got the knowledge of the game.”
Wide receiver numbers have been low this spring with injuries to rising senior Fred Ross (groin) and rising junior Donald Gray (knee). Ross missed the entire spring, while Ross went through one week before being sidelined. Rising senior Fred Brown left the university last week for reportedly violating the honor code.
Although the injuries allowed Dear to get more reps, Mullen said it’s never good when guys are out in the spring. He expects both Ross and Gray to be ready for summer workouts in June.
However, Dear has tried to make the most of the spring with the increase in reps.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better in my route running and my blocking,” Dear said. “I came in not such a great route runner and my blocking was up and down. I think I’ve gotten a little better at that.”
With Ross and Gray not taking reps and De’Runnya Wilson forgoing his senior season for the National Football League Draft, that increased Dear’s leadership role on the field. Redshirt freshmen Keith Mixon, Jonnas Spivey and Deddrick Thomas got more reps and looked to the likes of Dear, rising junior Gabe Myles and rising sophomore Jesse Jackson.
Dear finished his high school career with 3,298 rushing yards and 2,410 passing yards.
“I think Malik is amazing,” rising senior running back Brandon Holloway said. “I think he fits wherever he’s put at. As you can see he breaks a lot of tackles and he always catches the ball.
“I think when he got here he was already developed pretty well. We just had so much depth that you didn’t see him as much in games. I think he’s always been good.”
Dear said he hasn’t practiced much at running back this spring and doesn’t know what Mullen’s plans are for him in the fall. Either way, Dear just wants to be a part of the offense.
“If the ball is in my hands, I just like it,” Dear said.
n For the Maroon team, running backs Nick Gibson, Dontavian Lee and Tiberias Lampkin (former West Oktibbhea High School standout) had 2-yard touchdowns.
Gibson led all rushers with 79 yards on 10 carries.
Johnathan Calvin led the Maroon defense with eight tackles and four sacks, while Mark McLaurin had two interceptions and Leo Lewis had one.
For the White team, redshirt junior quarterback Damian Williams was 14 of 20 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Nick Fitzgerald completed 10 of 20 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Spivey had three catches for 101 yards and one touchdown, while Mixon had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
A.J. Jefferson had an interception for the White team.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.