It’s safe to say that Winona football coach Joey Tompkins didn’t have a high opinion of Dadarian Small as a junior high player.
And as Small entered his sophomore season, Small was somewhat of an afterthought as far as Tompkins was concerned. But that all changed on one play for Tompkins.
“I really didn’t know how good he could be until his 10th grade year when he caught a slant pass in a JV game and scored a touchdown,” Tompkins said. “He just kind of came out of nowhere in the end zone and came down with the ball. I was like ‘Where did that come from?’ I had never seen that out of the kid before. I really didn’t know what position the kid was going to play until I saw that.”
That play caught Tompkins’ attention and changed his mind about the speed receiver.
“I wasn’t a big fan of DaDa in the seventh and eighth grade,” Tompkins said. “But he is a kid that has totally changed that. You get kids sometimes that you think are disrespectful but they really aren’t because they don’t say anything. That’s him, he just doesn’t say much at all. He’s not a kid that you yell at and that’s him.”
The boast of confidence led to an increased role for Small last year and plenty of snaps on the offensive side of the ball. With senior quarterback An’darius Coffey throwing for more than 2,000 yards last year, Small was third on the team in receiver with 22 catches for 352 yards and four TDs.
“DaDa will be one of the fastest kids on the team, probably the fastest kid on the team,” Tompkins said. “He had some big plays last year in the passing game. He’s also a kid that is sort of a late bloomer.
“I always knew Robert McMath and Blake Cooper were going to be good players. I haven’t always known that DaDa was going to be a good player until his 10th grade year. One catch and I said ‘that kid is going to be really good for us.’ ”
Tompkins said Small doesn’t have blazing speed — although he runs a 4.6 in the 40 — but he is certainly a player who needs to touch the football.
‘We are going to make it a point to get him the ball,” Tompkins said. “We have four kids that we know going into the game, we have a chart of how many times each kid needs to touch the ball and he’s on that chart. Those are guys that we know that they have to touch the ball. It’s easy to get Blake (Cooper) and Darioun (Townsend) the football because you can hand it to him. To get DaDa the ball, you have to get a little more creative. We will have to get a little more creative with him whether it be throwing screens, hitches, jet screens, motions, whatever. We have to get him a certain number of touches every game.”
When the Tigers take the field this season, Small will likely see plenty of single coverage as McMath will draw plenty of attention after hauling in 63 catches for 973 yards last year.
“He is going to draw some one on one coverage,” Tompkins said. “He’s a vertical threat and runs good routes and can catch it. He is a very unassuming kid. He’s not very big and isn’t going to say very much, but he is a gamer. I don’t know how much we are going to be able to get him the ball, it just depends on the maturity of our quarterback. But we are planning on getting him the ball. We are going to get it to him in different ways, we are going to throw him screens, hand it off to him. He is the fastest kid on the team, he needs to touch the ball.”
While Small will primarily be an offensive player, he will also see some time on defense as well.
“He will definitely play some defense for us,” Tompkins said. “I’m going to try and start the year with 22 players but if we need him, we will play him on defense. It really just depends on what our depth looks like. As we get later in the year, I suspect he will play more. We put him in on defense in the later part of the season last year and I thought he really shined.”
While he’s an unassuming figure, Tompkins said he can definitely see Small playing at the next level.
“He can play somewhere, no doubt in my mind,” Tompkins said. “DaDa will go play somewhere. He’s too fast not to play somewhere. I don’t know what he is at the next level. I don’t know if he’s a slot receiver or a defensive back. He’s a kid they need to get in there and put some weight on as long as they don’t take some of his speed away. DaDa is faster than Robert McMath but Robert does everything so well. They are just two different kids. One doesn’t ever shut up and one doesn’t say anything.”
Small also started on the basketball team as a point guard last year and runs track as well. Small said he definitely wants to go to college and would like to major in business, perhaps owning his own business one day.
“He’s a very, very quiet kid and isn’t going to say much,” Tompkins said. “He is kind of shy when you approach him. He comes from a good Momma and Daddy. They have a bunch of kids and they are all very respectful kids. He never misses and has probably missed one day in two years and he will make that up. He is going to be here. He’s just a quiet kid.”