Church vows to ‘keep fighting’ after long journey to win boxing gloves as Cowboys’ player of week

Barry Church carried red boxing gloves with him as he hurriedly left Valley Ranch after team meetings Monday. Inscribed in black Sharpie on the gloves was his name, Sunday’s date and the opponent.

The Dallas Cowboys awarded Louisville sluggers and hard hats to the outstanding player of the week after victories in recent seasons. This year, boxing gloves represent the desire to “keep fighting.”

Church has done that his whole career.

“I think he’s a good football player,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “You’ve heard me talk about him a lot before. He was a free agent coming in here, and it’s hard to make teams in the NFL as a college free agent, and he came in and just showed us each and every day that ‘I deserve to be on this football team,’ and at every turn, he’s always kind of overachieved.

“He makes the football team. Now, ‘I’m going to be a contributor on special teams.’ He becomes one of our best special teams players. He can’t really play defense, and now he’s a defense player, and then he’s a defensive starter, and now he’s a productive defensive starter.”

Church had eight tackles on Sunday, second only to Bruce Carter’s nine. He also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble, returning it 27 yards for a touchdown, in the Cowboys’ season-opening, 36-31 victory over the New York Giants. Dallas forced five turnovers on defense, getting another touchdown on a game-clinching, 49-yard interception return from Brandon Carr.

The Cowboys also forced a turnover on special teams, giving them six takeaways after having only 16 all of last season.

The Cowboys, though, spent Monday talking as much about the 478 yards they allowed to the Giants. Eli Manning completed passes of 70, 57, 26, 23, 22 and 20 yards.

“Us causing turnovers helped us win the game, or the big plays would have been the story of the game instead of turnovers,” safety Will Allen said.

Church was one of the stories of the game, starting for only the fifth time in his career. He won the strong safety job in camp last year and even had a fumble recovery against the Giants in the 2012 opener. But he tore his Achilles’ tendon in Week 3 against Tampa Bay and went on injured reserve.

“He’s grown a lot,” Carr said. “Last year, I believed he was on his way to being that breakout player, but the injury kind of set him back. At the same time, it allowed him to get away from the game and get the mental part and get himself right as far as what type of player he wanted to be and be able to sit back and watch the game.

“This year, he’s come back, recovered well. I don’t think he’s lost a step. If anything he’s gained a step, and he’s a guy with utmost confidence right now. He’s rolling, and we’re going to feed off of that and the defense can feed off of each other right now.”

Now a free safety in the Tampa 2, Church showed how far he’s come since he arrived as an undrafted free agent from Toledo in 2010.

“I’ve come a long, long way,” Church said. “I feel like when I first came here, I was just considered an in-the-box safety. ‘Don’t put him back deep; he’ll give up the deep ball.’ Now I feel like I’m kind of a well-rounded safety back there, and I’m just trying to get better each day.”

Church, 25, plans to have his boxing gloves framed and hung in his game room. And he’s going to keep fighting like he has since the day he arrived.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram