IRVING, Texas– Rico Gathers isn't the only Cowboys draft pick with a basketball-first background.
Charles Tapper, the team's fourth-round defensive end, didn't play football until his junior year of high school – and it wasn't his idea.
"My mom told me I could either get a job or play football," he said. "That summer before my junior year my mom said, 'Hey, you have a little too much free time.' I had just gotten a little car, and she was like, 'You can't be sitting around the house doing nothing.'"
Tapper preferred basketball in his hometown of Baltimore. His plan was simple: go through the motions on the football field, "get cut and get right back to basketball season," he said.
"It didn't work out like that - riding the bench and getting embarrassed," Tapper laughed. "The girls in the crowd were laughing at me. It didn't work out for me."
Not until his friend, Cory Robinson, offered to train him for the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio.
"'If you stick with basketball you'll get a job with a couple Hondas in your lifetime,'" Tapper recalled him saying. Or, with Tapper's raw football talent, maybe he could drive a Lamborghini one day as an NFL player.
Tapper took the career advice to heart. The high-school combine helped him gain a better grasp on football.
"That's when I started liking the game and started to understand it," he said, "because when I was in Baltimore, I didn't really get the concept of it. I didn't understand the strategy behind it."
It also started his journey to the NFL. He ended up with a scholarship offer from Oklahoma and started three seasons for the Sooners, producing seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a senior in 2015.
The Cowboys see another level of potential in the 6-3, 271-pound Tapper, who ran an astounding 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He primarily played the four-technique position in Oklahoma's 3-4 defense, occupying blockers for the linebackers to run and make plays, but he'll get a chance to rush off the edge in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme.
"Athletically we certainly feel like he is a defensive end candidate for us, and a right end candidate," head coach Jason Garrett said. "Pass rush guy; he is an outstanding athlete. A lot of basketball in his background growing up, and we do think that the way that we play, the scheme that we run and the style of defense that we run, will feature some of the physical traits that he has."
Like Gathers, a former standout power forward at Baylor, basketball for Tapper has taken a back seat.