Forgive Dallas Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers for missing the start of organized team activities last week. He was at Baylor finishing up class work so he can graduate in August with a degree in health and human performance.
Considering Gathers is making the switch from basketball in college to football in the NFL and is understandably behind the learning curve, he could put off school to focus solely on his new sport. But getting his degree from “a prestigious institution” such as Baylor is important to him despite the recent sexual assault scandal swirling around the football program.
“I had to finish my degree,” Gathers said. “I got it done. I’m going to graduate in August from a prestigious institution like Baylor minus everything that is going on. I’m glad to say I graduated from Baylor.”
Gathers took some incompletes in some classes during the spring so he could prepare for the transition to the NFL and pro day. Once that was completed, he finished his course work with a mini-mester that caused him to miss the start of OTAs.
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He was in Waco last week when the scandal blew up, forcing the firing of football coach Art Briles, the resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw and the reassigning of school president Ken Starr. Starr resigned as chancellor on Wednesday.
Gathers remains proud and fond of his time at Baylor and said the school will get through this scandal.
“It’s been real difficult,” Gathers said. “Baylor is a good place. Certain events are shining down on us right now. But I’m glad to say I graduated from Baylor. Baylor has been real good to me, real good to my family. For the most part, I enjoyed my four years there.”
Now Gathers is playing catchup with in a new sport and at a new position.
The physical transition is one thing, but the mental part is even more overwhelming, considering the huge play book, the terminology. He said it’s like learning a new language.
“It’s not just technique and blocking,” Gathers said. “We got 30 calls in pass protection and run protection. You got to make sure you know everything. The first time I opened the play book it was daunting but once I learned how they break everything down, the route tree and certain terminology they use for certain routes it was easier.
"It was like opening up a text book with foreign information. But once the teacher goes over it you can get it. It’s different. You have to know what is being called at the right time.”
The Cowboys are hoping Gathers makes the successful transition to football like San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who also played basketball in college and developed into a Pro Bowler.
The Cowboys plan on being patient.
“He’s a giant of a man, and obviously has that first guy off the bus look,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We know we need to be patient. How patient will be determined by fast he picks everything up. The guy is going to be, at some point, a matchup (advantage). Whether it’s blocking, because of his size and length, or if it’s his catch radius and big hands, the guy was a great shot-blocker and rebounder in college, and those guys have translated into the NFL.”
Gathers is being patient as well. He knows it’s not going to happen overnight. But he has a great teacher in Cowboys Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten.
“You can already tell he’s a sponge,” Witten said. “He wants to soak it up. He’s got coach [Mike] Pope, who’s got a lot of wisdom. I think the best thing he does is just start from scratch and just teach him the way.”