Dallas Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie missed the first day of rookie mini-camp on Friday. But he had a very plausible reason why.
Awuzie was marching across the stage and receiving his diploma from the University of Colorado.
"My life-long dream was to play in the NFL – obviously you’ve got to go to school to do that,’’ Awuzie said on Saturday. "Once I got into Colorado I saw an opportunity to graduate early and I kind of set my eyes on that and tried to handle both.
"It was gratifying and it was really a proud accomplishment, because I’m a humble guy. My accomplishments, I don’t even put them on par with anything else, but it’s my graduation and I’m really proud of what I did to get this."
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Awuzie was at the Cowboys’ headquarters Thursday and went through all the physical and medical procedures before flying to Denver at midnight-- following a two-hour plane delay. He arrived in Denver around 3 a.m., was back up at 8 a.m. Friday for a graduation ceremony, and went through the business school graduation ceremonies later that night when he actually walked across the stage.
Knowing how important it was for Awuzie to walk across the stage and receive his diploma, the Cowboys gave him their blessing to skip Friday’s opening day of the team’s rookie mini-camp.
"When I was a little kid academics was first, and that’s really what’s important in our family,’’ Awuzie said. "When I crossed that stage I really felt proud.”
Coach Jason Garrett was on board with Awuzie’s schedule.
“We found out about that a few days ago and that was the exact right thing for him to do. He came in on Thursday and got his physical, had the meetings with us. He left out of here late Thursday night, missed yesterday for graduation in Colorado and then came back early this morning,” Garrett said. “One of the things we liked so much about him is just the kind of kid he is, and he showed that today. He took care of his responsibilities. It’s a great honor and a privilege to graduate from Colorado, and then back to work today and he didn’t skip a beat.”
A second-round draft pick by the Cowboys, Awuzie said there were some challenging times trying to juggle academics and football. But he wasn’t going to be deterred.
"As a student-athlete you’re totally there for school first and athletics second,’’ he said. "But it’s always been our dream to play in the NFL, so I kind of put a lot of our chips over there (towards athletics).
"So I had to definitely work a little bit harder in terms of school just to get that accomplishmen. There were some times where I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but I’m here now, so it’s good."
Awuzie said he started studying more of the Cowboys’ playbook on Friday night after he finished with his graduation ceremonies. And he was eager to get on the practice field on Saturday for the first time.
“Oh, I just think he’s an all-around sharp person,” vice-president Stephen Jones said. “Obviously, it’s important to his parents and important to him. He worked hard to get that degree and we totally
respect and encouraged him to be a part of that.”
Ironically, Awuzie was introduced as the newest member of the Cowboys in a very memorable way. Cowboys legendary receiver Drew Pearson stood on the podium at the NFL Draft – amid loud boos from the hateful crowd in Philadelphia – and ran down a list of the franchise’s noteworthy accomplishments before announcing that the Cowboys were drafting Awuzie.
"That was crazy, that was surreal,’’ said Awuzie, who was the 60th overall draft pick. "Two picks before I got the call (from the Cowboys), I was kind of hugging everybody and dropping tears, and I kind of just stepped outside to get some fresh air and just think and reflect.
"And I come back in for my pick and I’m kind of staring at the screen while (Person is) talking and I’m like, ‘What’s going on? Did he just say my name?’ And all of a sudden he just said my name.’
The whole scene was emotional for Awuzie.
"Especially when I heard my name and it happened to me," he said. "Coming from a legend like that who used to play for a great organization like this, it was really surreal."
Dan Skipper is easily the tallest player in the Cowboys’ rookie mini-camp.
The massive offensive guard from Arkansas is a staggering 6-10 and weighs 311 pounds. And yes, he also played basketball at Ralston Valley High School in Arvada, CO.
“I played one year (of basketball) in high school,’’ Skipper said. “But they don’t really need an enforcer in basketball.”
Thus, Skipper dropped basketball so he could concentrate on football, and wound up being a first-team all-Southeastern Conference player last year. Now, he trying to make the Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted weekend workout player.
“The biggest thing is this is all new techniques,’’ Skipper said. “It’s all new calls, and we’re just trying to get what we know and translate it to what we do here, and then technique-wise taking everything we know and raising it and doing it the right way here.”
He has already made an impression after a brief scare when he informed the Cowboys of a blood condition upon arrival. The Cowboys took him to the doctor to get it checked out before allowing him practice as a try out player.
Now they hope to sign him the active roster for training camp.
"Yeah, hopefully," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "We’re working on some things with him. Hopefully he’ll be that guy, and we may change some things around.”
Stephen Jones said the Dallas would like to host upcoming between fight Canelo Alvavez and IBF, IBO, WBA, WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golvin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The much anticipated fight, announced last weekend, is set for Sept. 16. The Cowboys play at the Denver Broncos on Sept. 17 so the calendar is clear.
A site has not yet been set, though T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is likely the leading contender along with AT&T Stadium, which hosted Alvarez’s ninth-round knockout of England’s Liam Smith last September as well as two Manny Pacquiao bouts in 2010.
Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles has already submitted a bid for the fight.
The Cowboys have not taken that step, but their interest is clear and known, per Jones.
"Would sure like to be considered," Jones said. "No we haven’t made a bid but we’re hopeful of getting in the mix on that. They know we want to do it. They’ll have to contact us. We’ve told them we’re interested when that fight comes around."