IRVING, Texas – Rico Gathers' signature, freshly inked on an NFL contract Friday morning, emphasizes one of the most dramatic transitions in recent Cowboys' history.
After all, it was a mere one month ago that Gathers was drafted as a college basketball All-American with next-to-no football experience. It was as recently as March that Gathers averaged 11 points and nine rebounds for Baylor's basketball team.
Gathers' potential as an NBA prospect was limited, which is hardly unusual. What is unusual was the decision he made next – to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft, despite a nine-year hiatus from football.
Judging by his newly-signed Cowboys contract, it's a decision that paid off.
"I have to look at this like it's the last job I'll ever have and I just have to get caught up," Gathers said. "Now that I have the playbook, the little things come quicker and it's just about studying and understanding my assignments. The coaches treat me like a football player and they expect me to know what I'm doing."
The Cowboys picked up the athletic tight end prospect in the sixth round, and his potential seems to outweigh the riskiness of drafting a player with no proven football success.
Luckily for Gathers, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the staff won't be putting too much stock in their players' pasts, only in how they perform at practice.
"The only thing that matters is what you do now," Garrett said. "It doesn't really matter when you were drafted, you're getting an opportunity and we as coaches are going to use our eyes to evaluate. We aren't going to go back into the history and we aren't going to watch the college tape."
If the Cowboys were going to look at Gathers' college tape, they would be hard pressed to translate his basketball skills into football skills. Luckily for the LaPlace, La., native, his sheer athleticism translates perfectly fine.
"Rico has a lot to learn about football, but there's certainly a very talented-looking athlete who can run and catch. But he has a long way to go," Garrett said.
Gathers will undoubtedly be compared to several other notable conversion athletes, such as Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. But Gathers is significantly larger at 6-6, 273 pounds and he runs a 4.75 40-yard dash. The rookie impressed the coaches at minicamp two weeks ago, and he leaned on teammates to ease the growing pains of learning a new system from scratch.
"I had my man Dak Prescott out there coaching me up and I really appreciate him and all of the other players believing in me," Gathers said. "If you asked them if I'm making the same mistakes I made yesterday they'd say no so, it's about me dialing into the playbook and knowing my assignments."
The Cowboys staff hasn't been giving Gathers any extra attention, but the tight end has no trouble seeking out help with understanding the playbook, which he says is going to be the only learning aspect he'll really have to catch up on. It's practice and being on the field that is the most familiar aspect of his new journey.
"I'm comfortable now," Gathers said. "I'm back into my own element. I'm just dialing in, focusing on what the coaches are telling us and I'm working hard. As long as I can work hard we're good physically, I just have to be in the playbook mentally."