IRVING, Texas – Cowboys players became coaches and coaches became commissioners Thursday during the second annual Dallas Cowboys U high school football camp proudly supported by Paragon Healthcare and the Texas National Guard..
More than 160 underserved student-athletes showed up at the Valley Ranch training facility and were divided into eight teams, each led by a Cowboys player. Tony Romo, Brandon Carr, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Sean Lee, Miles Austin and Doug Free all got their own team, with Romo's squad coming out the victors, although not without some lighthearted controversy.
Austin's team went 3-0 and earned a trip to the championship game. With three 2-1 teams, Romo's team was given a bye in a one-play, three-team playoff to earn a trip to the championship game against Austin's squad. Romo's side, which got the bye based on points scored, won the final play-in game for the opportunity to face Austin's group.
"Our players were so enthusiastic about this," said head coach Jason Garrett. "In so many ways, they see themselves when they were in high school. A lot of them took the same path these kids were taking. I asked them to dive in, and they dove in more than you can even imagine. The images of Witten and Dez [Bryant] and [Jason] Hatcher and all these guys running down the field, chest bumping with these kids, it's fantastic, and I think the kids really enjoyed it."
The remaining Cowboys roster served as assistant coaches to each of the eight teams to help install and instruct the game plan for the 7-on-7 tournament. Romo could be heard giving signals and barking orders to both his offense and defense with help from Hatcher, and the players responded.
The youth athletes were selected to participate with assistance from the National Football Foundation. For several years, Garrett has partnered with the National Football Foundation to choose participants for a similar football camp he hosts annually at his alma mater, Princeton. The student-athletes participating in Thursday's Dallas Cowboys U represented schools from across the DFW Metroplex.
"These are unbelievable kids," Lee said. "To watch them play with the intensity they did is unbelievable, a lot of fun."
It was difficult to tell if the kids or the Cowboys players were more entertained. The coaches on hand, including Lee, were teaching the kids techniques and how to work diligently, and the Cowboys' players on the sideline got hyped after every catch was made.
"That's the fun of it," Lee said. "We get to come out here and coach, but the best part about it is when they respond. I saw our team get better and better every game and they really responded to the coaching and they were selling out. You saw kids diving for balls, you saw kids trying to make plays. It was unbelievable."
So is coaching potentially in Lee's future?
"I want to play as long as I can," he said, "so I don't even want to think about that."