IRVING, Texas – Rico Gathers has played a big game inside AT&T Stadium before. Against third-ranked Kentucky. For Baylor's basketball team. He grabbed 13 rebounds and the Bears won, 67-62, in December 2013.
Now, the 22-year-old Gathers is committed to playing football for the first time since age 13.
The Cowboys drafted him with their final pick on Saturday (sixth round; No. 217 overall) as a tight end prospect following a stellar college career at power forward.
Gathers stopped playing football in eighth grade to focus on basketball. Named an All-American in college for his prowess on the glass, he posted career averages of 8.2 points and 8.0 boards.
He said he began seriously considering football again last September, and eventually he declared for the draft in March.
"That was pretty much the first grown-man decision I've ever made in my life," he said. "A lot of people thought I was crazy, like, 'What? You want to give up on basketball to go play football?' But I knew what I wanted to do.
"I never saw myself being a first-round guy; I always saw myself making the team and working my way up, because a lot of people thought this was a mistake because I haven't played since I was 13. But I see it differently because of the hard worker that I am."
Gathers reportedly ran between 4.75 and 4.85 in the 40-yard dash time during a recent pro day. Clearly, the Cowboys were impressed enough with his workout to draft him as a developmental prospect Saturday with the third of three sixth-round compensatory selections.
"He's a guy that came on the radar here recently, and he is just very impressive physically," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He is 6-7; he is 270-plus pounds. Has not played a lot of football in his life, but when [senior offensive assistant] Steve Loney went to the workout to see him, he was impressed with him.
"Clearly he is determined to do this, and so we just felt at the bottom of our draft, this was a worthwhile opportunity for us to take a shot at somebody."
On the basketball court, Gathers was an elite rebounder. Although he clearly has plenty of room for development on the football field – he said he's looking forward to learning as much as he can from 10-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten – the Cowboys believe Gathers has the tools to eventually become a physical blocker on the line of scrimmage as well as a pass-catcher.
"I think I match up pretty well," he said. "My big frame, being 6-6, 6-7, 270-275 pounds, that definitely carries weight.
"I'm about that physicality as a player. I've just got it in my mindset. Really and truly, that's what is going to carry me to a long career in this league is just being physical, being able and being willing to use my size to my advantage to block and create things for the offense."