IRVING, Texas –It wasn't the most pleasant offseason for Kevin Ogletree off the field, but it might help explain his major step forward on the field.
In January, his brother Calvin was shot in the head outside his exotic car rental business in Queens, New York, where the two grew up. The crime, which remains unsolved, left Calvin Ogletree fighting for his life for weeks, with his wide-receiver brother at his bedside. While he has made slow, measured progress over the last eight months, Calvin remains in need of care.
Kevin, who visited his brother before the Cowboys' team buses left for MetLife Stadium on Wednesday, has channeled his emotions into something positive for himself and his family, a breakthrough in a career that was sewn in offseason workouts and training camp, and ripened against the defending-champion New York Giants in the season-opening win.
"I felt very good when I woke up this morning. I got to go see my brother," Ogletree said after the game. "I think about him all the time. He's a big inspiration in my life. … He's doing great. Today was the most inspirational day he's had so far. It was great to see him. He told me he was good, to go do what I do."
What Ogletree did was something he had never done in his three previous seasons. He scored the first touchdown of his NFL career, and then his second, all while setting new career highs with eight catches and 114 receiving yards.
The big game came after an offseason that included not only the tragedy, but also some great uncertainty. A restricted free agent in March, Ogletree was not tendered by the Cowboys, and went into the free agency pool for a period in mid-March, actually visiting the New York Giants but leaving without a deal. When 2011 third receiver standout Laurent Robinson left for big money in Jacksonville, the Cowboys brought Ogletree back as insurance at a position that included no other players with even a single NFL catch.
After Ogletree failed to take advantage of his opportunity to become the Cowboys' No. 3 last year, he immediately went about doing the things necessary to take a step forward in 2012. Much maligned already in his young career, Ogletree was intent on ratcheting up his work ethic.
"I know sometimes as journalists and writers you can go off of the games and see the stuff that is happening," quarterback Tony Romo said Wednesday night. "But for me, I'm going off of the guy in practice every day – the guy who's consistently getting a good release from press coverage, the guy who is consistently where he needs to be at the right time. The reason he got that job was because he was doing that day in and day out and it showed tonight, his commitment that it took."
At different times in his career, injuries have elevated Ogletree to the No. 3 role in games, including the six contests Miles Austin missed last year, but the concern of many fans was that in a similar circumstance, Ogletree wouldn't be able to make it as a starter. However, Austin and Dez Bryant both missed significant portions of training camp, giving Ogletree the extra first-team reps he needed with Tony Romo to be successful on Wednesday.
Some things happen for a reason, and others happen for no reason at all.
"Injuries do provide opportunity," head coach Jason Garrett said. "I think Kevin and Tony played a lot together in the preseason, throughout training camp, and I think some of that showed up last night. There's a comfort level Tony has with Kevin."
Just one regular season game down, the question marks surrounding the depth of the Cowboys' receiving corps have begun to subside. A confident player, Ogletree maintained all offseason that he was doing the necessary things to become the receiver the Cowboys need him to be, and the person he wants to be.
"I haven't, for a while, had football as my life and my focus," Ogletree said in May. "Some things happened in the offseason that really forced me to look in the mirror and dig deep and find out what I want to be … some bad things have turned me into a better person."