The transition from college basketball standout to NFL player wasn’t going to happen overnight for Rico Gathers. But Gathers is confident he’s closer to playing on Sundays.
Gathers, the former Baylor star, spent all of last season on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. He joined the team as a sixth-round pick, but never threatened to make the 53-man roster.
Gathers, a 6-foot-8, 280-pounder, expects that to change this season.
“Honestly, I feel like this year I’m ready to be on the 53-man, ready to score some touchdowns, ready to go make some plays,” said Gathers, who attended Sunday’s NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The hardest thing for me last year was sitting out. I was doing all the things in practice, but wasn’t able to participate in the games. I have a lot of chip built up on my shoulder, a monkey on my back that I want to get off. So each day I go into practice I’m going to go in there to compete for the No. 1 spot. I know if I’m pushing myself to compete for the No. 1 spot, it’s going to in turn push the players around me to compete with each other.
“Competing with a Hall of Famer like Jason Witten is enough motivation for any young tight end. I just feel like for me, I’m ready to push him for the No. 1 spot because I know it’s going to make me better in the long run. That’s the main thing – it’s about making each other better.”
Gathers, 23, will have opportunities to impress throughout the off-season. Gavin Escobar departed in free agency, and Geoff Swaim is likely out until training camp because of foot surgery he underwent last month.
The team’s volunteer off-season program begins Monday.
Gathers is preparing for the workload and is ready for any opportunity thrown his way. He feels like he can become a red-zone target for the Cowboys, using his size and basketball roots to go up and get any ball thrown his way in the end zone.
“That’s my game,” Gathers said. “I like to prove myself in something that I put my mind to. If I said I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. You know what I’m saying? When you hear me talking as confident as I am, that’s because I’m really that confident. I’m not cocky or nothing. I’m just confident my hard work and my will to be the best is what is going to carry over and make me one of the best tight ends in the NFL. I promise you that.”
Gathers received praise from the coaching staff in his development throughout the season, and flashed potential in last year’s preseason finale making an impressive 8-yard catch against Houston.
Plus, Gathers understands the value in learning under someone as accomplished as Witten.
“Staying under Jason’s wing is important and taking in any type of knowledge he has to drop,” Gathers said. “When he’s watching film, I need to be there watching film with him. Just being a student of the game.
“I want to be great at what I do. A lot of people looking at it like, ‘Oh, he hasn’t played a lick of football.’ But they don’t know my work ethic. They don’t know how much time I put into working hard and pushing my body to be great, pushing my mind to be great. That’s really what’s going to carry me and allow me to be the best tight end one of these days.”
Dallas Cowboys key dates
Monday Voluntary off-season program begins
April 27-29 NFL Draft, Philadelphia
May 5-7 Rookie minicamp
May 23-25 Organized team activities
May 30-June 1 OTAs
June 5-7 OTAs
June 13-15 Mandatory minicamp
Thursday, Aug. 3 vs. Arizona Cardinals, Canton, Ohio, 7 p.m.
Game 2 at Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, TBA
Game 3 vs. Indianapolis Colts, AT&T Stadium, TBA
Game 4 vs. Oakland Raiders, AT&T Stadium, TBA
Thursday, Aug. 31 Game 5 at Houston Texans, NRG Stadium, TBA