Muschamp, the man who believed in his ability, left to take a head coaching gig at South Carolina. Dean was never able to suit up for Muschamp and injury struck again. Prior to the 2016 season during fall camp, Dean tore his ACL in his left knee. After enduring yet another devastating setback, he sank into depression.
“I hit my breaking point,” Dean described. “I basically just went into my dorm room and just sat in the dark and basically cried. Said, ‘Man, maybe football is just not cut out for me?’ I called my mom and said, ‘Mom, I think I’m ready to quit.’ But I had a good support system, and they did not allow it. “
Initially, Dean shut down. He became a “shell” of himself and did not feel comfortable disclosing the way he felt. As he began to sift through the myriad of emotions, self-doubt and unrelenting circumstances, the harsh words he spoke to himself took a toll. The deprecating thoughts began to affect his mental state. He did not feel comfortable enough to become vulnerable to a therapist but knew he needed help. Once everything unraveled, Dean sought out advice in the form of family and teammates. His loved ones intervened and carried the weight of his burdens upon themselves so Dean did not have to face them alone.
“The mind is a powerful thing,” Dean emphatically noted. “Sometimes, you can be unconscious of how you are behaving. You can be so stuck in a routine that you do not realize that you are ill. Just suppressing your feelings in your body, it only builds up like a time bomb, really. It waits until one instance when you are finally at your breaking point, and you reach the point of no return… my mom and my teammates at Auburn encouraged me. They said, ‘You did not come this far just to give up.’ I had to believe in myself and realize, if they believed so much in me, why couldn’t I believe in myself like that?
“I had a guy that I went to school with, his name was Josh Hosely, and he was an inspiration for me because he tore both of his ACLs too and he had just come back from injury that year. I saw how he came out and made great plays and received a chance to get to the NFL. I thought, ‘If he was able to do it, I just have to get my mindset right.’ I took it upon myself to go through the whole rehab process that year and got myself back together. “
Circumstances do not dictate character but reveal it. In the darkest days of isolation, Dean was able to fight depression despite his circumstances by investing in his mental health and seeking guidance from people in his circle he trusted. After suffering in silence, Dean made a courageous decision to become transparent, generating the strength he needed to begin rehabilitation. When most would have given up, he decided to wholeheartedly manifest his goals and dreams. Dean got himself healthy and went on to become a two-year starter for the Tigers. During his collegiate tenure from 2017-18, Dean accumulated 73 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions, 17 passes defensed and a fumble recovery in 26 game starts. His most notable performance came against Texas A&M, where he had seven tackles, a fumble recovery and a sack.
With a rare combination of size (6’1 “, 205 pounds) and speed (4.30 40-yard dash), Dean drew attention from evaluators. With ease in transition, Dean showcased his efficiency in quickly bursting out of breaks to match receivers on He was known for his prowess as a press coverage player, physicality at the line of scrimmage and ability to disrupt at the catch point.Dean entered the NFL draft after his redshirt junior year.
The Cocoa, Florida native fell under the radar due to question marks by teams regarding long-term damage with his knees that might hinder his career. At the scouting combine, he garnered the attention of media when he flashed his 4.3 40-yard dash, the best time among the defensive back group. He was lethal when utilized on corner blitzes for Auburn and became an ideal fit for the Buccaneers’ attack-styled scheme. The Buccaneers were confident in Dean’s health and selected him in the third round (94th overall pick) in the 2019 NFL Draft.