It was an embrace four years in the making.
Players in Church’s position, and McCray’s for that matter, don’t typically stick around the way they have. They wanted to thank Joe DeCamillis, the current Bears special teams coordinator who previously held that position in Dallas, for his role in helping them get there.
The NFL journey for the undrafted Church, the team’s leading tackler in 2013, and the undrafted McCray, who has made his billing as a special teams ace, all began under the guidance of DeCamillis.
“Both said, ‘Thank you and appreciate everything you did,’ which is always nice to hear from former players, no question,” DeCamillis says.
Church, the Cowboys’ starting safety and unquestioned leader of his position group, went unselected in the 2010 NFL Draft. The versatile defender didn’t have a team.
That was before the Cowboys, a group that Church hadn’t spoken to during the pre-draft process for more than a few seconds, brought the unheralded safety on board to look over.
“It was kind of random,” Church remembers. ‘I’d never spoken to any of the Cowboys. At the combine, I’d seen one and maybe talked to him for two seconds. They didn’t come to my Pro Day, nothing like that. I never thought the Dallas Cowboys were a choice. When I wasn’t drafted, they were the first team to call. I was like, ‘All right, I’m cool with this one.’”
They were, too.
Church hurt his shoulder prior to his second offseason and made it a point to start working stringently with strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik, along with his secondary coaches, Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker, before the 2012 campaign. He would be fighting for a starting safety job that he’d eventually get after earning high praise as one of the standouts in training camp.
“That offseason they worked me out two or three times a week,” Church says. “We just worked on backpedaling, defensively as a safety what can I see here, how route concepts worked. I just worked with them the whole offseason, and too bad I got injured, but they got me ready to play. Credit goes to them as well.”
That injury he’s referring to was a torn Achilles, which would end his season after just three games. He’d have to use the same grit he demonstrated as an undrafted player if he were to come back just as strong.
He did, and despite making just those three starts after coming into last season primarily as a backup and special teams player, he immediately thrust himself to the forefront as the veteran of the 2013 safety group on a club that, after cutting Will Allen, featured a third-round pick in
Even to this day, as an unquestioned starter in the secondary, Church keeps the same mindset Heath has every day he steps on a field, knowing just how unlikely his journey has been and how quickly it can be taken away. During his down time on the road, there are moments when Church reminisces about how far he’s come, turning to McCray to share their memories from the past.
Church says other people forget all the time from where he came. His teammates look at him and the position he’s in right now and forget how far he’s had to rise in a short amount of time.
“But me and (Danny) never forget. We always play with that chip on our shoulders,” Church says. “It feels good. It makes you realize you’ve accomplished a lot coming from that.”
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