Dallas Cowboys

Rico Gathers feels it’s a matter of ‘when, not if’ he realizes NFL dream

Rico Gathers says it’s “BC to AD” in terms of his football progress.
Rico Gathers says it’s “BC to AD” in terms of his football progress. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Basketball season is here and Rico Gathers is not having any second thoughts about his decision to pursue a football career instead of basketball.

Gathers, the former Baylor basketball standout, joined the Cowboys as a sixth-round pick in last spring’s draft and is making strides as a practice squad member.

“It’s BC to AD,” Gathers said of his football progress. “That’s literally the drastic change. I remember coming in and not really fully understanding anything. It’s just like, ‘OK, I’m here about to run these routes. When it came to blocking, it was a blur to me.’ Now I know the concepts.”

Gathers is trying to become the latest college basketball star to make the transition to the NFL such as San Diego’s Antonio Gates and Seattle’s Jimmy Graham. And Gathers has garnered praise from teammates and the coaching staff.

Gathers has particularly improved his blocking ability by working at offensive tackle on the scout team, and continues to refine his route-running abilities.

“He’s getting better every day. He really is,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We felt like he had a lot of physical ability, which he clearly does. And we felt like he had the right mindset and mentality to do this. I think that combination has really helped him improve.

“He’s got his eyes open, he’s got his ears open and he’s learning every day and he approaches it the right way. He’s got great intensity in practice. Technically he has so far to go but he’s come so far in a short period of time, so it’s been a good project for us and he’s really taken advantage of the opportunity.”

Gathers couldn’t ask for a better situation himself. He loves learning from the Cowboys’ tight end group, led by 10-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten. Backups Geoff Swaim, Gavin Escobar and James Hanna also offer daily advice, as well as assistant coaches Mike Pope and Steve Loney.

At the end of the day, Gathers is pleased with his decision and feels he’s definitely got a future as an NFL player. Plus, he gets enough NBA fill from frequent conversations with his former college teammate, Taurean Prince of the Atlanta Hawks.

“I don’t even know how good I’m going to be yet,” Gathers said. “But it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when [I play in the NFL].”