HORN LAKE, Miss. — Nakobe Dean loves his name because he doesn’t have to share it. When he was younger he would spend time on Google and Facebook searching for it, just to make sure he still had it all to himself. He has never met another Nakobe.
The Horn Lake senior is the top-rated inside linebacker in the nation for the Class of 2019, according to the 247Sports composite ranking, the top-rated player in Mississippi and the No. 15 player overall in the nation.
But he’s also a straight-A student and mentors at-risk youth in his hometown of Tunica, Mississippi.
“It’s almost like he’s a kid that’s living his teenage years for the second time, because you think about you and I if we were 17 again how we would do things,” said Horn Lake coach Brad Boyette. “But that’s the way he is. You know how the typical 17-year-old might be looking to lay down and eat a bag of chips or something like that, well that doesn’t figure into his day. He has a purpose for every second.”
If you want to know who Nakobe Dean is, all you have to do is ask him.
“Nakobe Dean is a real cool guy,” Dean said with a smile. “He can be chill, he likes to have fun also. He can be intense at times but he is about his business.”
How Nakobe Dean got his name
Dean is the middle child of three. His older brother, Nikolas, plays tight end at Ole Miss.
“If I had to pick one person who would keep this family together if things were to go wrong, it would be him,” said Nakobe. “He’s a real family guy and he’s going to take care of his folks.”
His younger sister, Brooklyn, is his trusted confidant.
“I talk to my little sister every day,” said Dean. “About almost anything to be honest.”
The brothers share the “nic” sound in their first names with their mother, Neketta, who wanted to name them after herself. She was always fond of the name Kobe, so she added the “na” in front of it to keep with the theme. She calls Dean “Kobe” for short. She also calls him “Kobear” because of his teddy bear-like affection for her.
“You know, I’m a mama’s boy,” said Dean. “I love my mama. We have a great relationship.”
His parents divorced when he was just a year old, and Neketta has raised the children on her own. The kids were aware of their father, Byron, growing up, but didn’t see him much. He’s a physician who owns a practice in Florida.
Dean plans on studying engineering but also said that he wants to become a doctor one day like his dad.
Neketta was the Director of Community Affairs and Public Relations for the Tunica County government until she retired in 2015. She spent as much of her free time as possible with her kids, instilling discipline in them while trying to keep things fun.
Freestyle Fridays were highly anticipated because they marked the start of the weekend and the rules loosened up a bit. It meant that the kids could do things that weren’t allowed during the week such as eating junk food and playing video games.
Neketta would also reward her children with cash for strong academic performance. From eighth grade on, a straight-A report card was worth $100. Just one B would drop the reward down to $25.
“And he (Dean) would tell me “if I get a B, I don’t want anything,” said Neketta. “Don’t give me anything if I get a B. He was just determined.”
Said Dean: “I feel like what makes me different from most people is my mindset, the way I approach things and look at things. I look at it from a business standpoint and a moral standpoint because of how my mama taught me when I was younger. She taught me almost everything I know.”
Neketta got an early glimpse at that determination when Nakobe was in third grade. They would play Scrabble together and Nakobe could never beat her, until one day he surprised her with a word that she didn’t know he knew. He had been looking up words in a thesaurus, and she doesn’t quite remember which word led him to victory that night, but she remembers the feeling.
“And when he said it, I was like, ‘That’s not right,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, look it up, look it up,’ because we used to challenge each other,” she said. “And sure enough it was right.”
Where will Nakobe Dean go to school?
Dean grew up playing football, basketball and baseball. His football instincts manifested early, during pee-wee flag football at age 5, where he was already making tackles.
“They (the coaches) were like, ‘You can’t tackle Kobe, you can’t tackle. You just gotta pull the flags,” said Neketta. “So, he started from there.”
Dean played on the Horn Lake basketball team his freshman year, but quickly realized that scrapping in the post as a 6-foot “big man” wasn’t the best possible use of his time, even though ESPN lists his 41.2-inch vertical leap as the best at his position in the country. He figured he could focus more on football if he dropped it, so he did.
That spring, Dean was fighting for a starting spot on the baseball team when he broke his left wrist diving for a fly ball the week before the season started. He sat out the season and played his sophomore season but then focused on playing only football.
Dean made the varsity football team his freshman year, but the attention from college coaches didn’t start pouring in until his sophomore season. So far he has officially visited Alabama, and according to 247Sports has an official visit scheduled with LSU on Dec. 7. Dean says his list is down to his top seven schools and that there are no frontrunners.
“They’re all even. That’s for real,” he said. “I kept it like that the whole recruiting process because I feel like I have enough information on them to make them my top schools. But if I had a number one, two, or three, why not just commit to number one.”
“There’s no one school for me that has the total package, but there’s something about all of them whether it’s their academics, their staff, or their football program that I wish I could take a piece from all of them and put it together,” his mom said.
He plans to make his commitment during the early signing period on Dec. 19, six days after his 18th birthday. He will graduate high school in December and plans on enrolling in college in January.