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Spagnola: Quite A WR Journey Coming Home


FRISCO, Texas – Watching Friday's first rookie minicamp practice, for some reason made me think back to about this time last year, like roughly 13 months ago.

On April 13, 2018, the Cowboys, showing a lot of nerve, released their leading wide receiver, Dez Bryant, and introduced us to this idea of winning with a "receiver by committee."

Great idea. Except for one major factor. The committee, as was structured, was not worthy, evidenced by the Cowboys offense struggling through the first half of the season, scoring no more than 20 points in six of those first eight games.

But today, May 10th, 2019, suddenly the Cowboys have a crowded field at the wide receiver position, currently a dozen guys. And not just guys, but they got 'em some players. Enough that it's going to be a dogfight to play themselves into a top-six spot. Might have to keep seven if they can qualify that number. If not, that practice squad is going to be loaded.

And look, I know better than most. It's only the second week of May. Not a pad or helmet has been worn yet. But saw Dak Prescott in the locker room, and he had a big ol' smile on his face when broaching the wide receiver subject to him.

As we know, the Cowboys traded for Amari Cooper eight weeks into the season. After taking Michael Gallup with a third-round pick, they spent enough time developing him to the point that the rookie started nine games and is projected to be the team's solid No. 2 receiver.

After losing Cole Beasley in free agency, the Cowboys signed Green Bay's perennial pain of a receiver Randall Cobb. They re-signed Tavon Austin. Allen Hurns will be ready to go for the start of training camp. That's five right there. Noah Brown is entering his third year. Cedrick Wilson, last year's sixth-round pick who spent the year on injured reserve, is ready to go. Lance Lenoir got his feet wet some last year.

Then the Cowboys signed former Ohio State wideout Devin Smith, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2015 who is trying to revitalize his career after suffering through two torn ACLs and not playing in 2018. Smith says he's ready to go, and we're talking about a guy at Ohio State who finished with 30 touchdown receptions, and as a senior (playing with Ezekiel Elliott) averaged 28.2 yards a catch. _Averaged now!_ Plus, the Cowboys added two-year practice squader Reggie Davis.

But now comes the catch to what might become Cowboys _Dirty Dozen II_:

They have added two rookie free agents who can flat out run: Jon'vea Johnson of Toledo, who turned in a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash during his Pro Day workout and averaged 20.8 yards per catch his senior year. And he's a guy who finished third in the 100 meters at the 2013 Indiana high school state meet and has NFL bloodlines, dad Jason Johnson playing four years in the NFL and cousin Lonnie Johnson Jr., a cornerback at Kentucky, going 54th this year to Houston.

And then there is Guyton, Jalen Guyton. This kid is going to make you drool, and already had the Cowboys staff, without having even seen him catch a pass on Friday, giddy.

Those in these parts know all about Guyton. The one-time quarterback his freshman year in high school turned into a wide receiver at nearby Allen (Texas) High School thanks to the arrival of some guy by the name of Kyler Murray. The two went on to win three consecutive 6A state championships, Guyton becoming Murray's favorite target, and for good reason. In his final two seasons with the Eagles, Guyton caught 124 passes for 2,798 yards and 35 touchdowns. That's not a misprint: 35.

And then there are his Pro Day numbers: 4.35 in the 40; 37.5-inch vertical; 4.09-second short shuttle; and 6.8 in the three-cone drill. All enough to cause draft guru Gil Brandt to say, "Looks like he could go in the draft."

He didn't. But now, and you're going to love all this, the rest of the story.

Guyton was born in Irving, not far from Texas Stadium. Family are big Cowboys fans. Went to games, says family has baby pictures of him at Texas Stadium. Family even bought those Cowboys blue seats when the old stadium was gutted and then demolished, with the family eventually moving to Allen.

Even Guyton says, "To know me, you have to know where I've come from."

As could be expected, Guyton, now 6-1, 212, was highly recruited coming out of high school, receiving offers from the likes of Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford, TCU and Ole Miss. He chose Notre Dame.

Unfortunately, Notre Dame turned out to be a false start. He was red-shirted initially, and then right before Notre Dame's playoff game against Ohio State, the school announced Guyton had been suspended, "pending the resolution of a private matter" read the release. The four-star receiver decided to withdraw.

Then his journey began.

"Me, personally, I was younger at the time, and when things don't go as you want, as you planned, you do think, _man_. You're kind of having a lot of doubt," Guyton said. "But it ended up being my journey, and was more a testament to the people who were behind me, my family, several coaches who came to me and said you have what it takes, keep pushing, keep grinding."

Grind he did. One spring semester at a community college, then one year playing at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. Then on to University of North Texas for the past two seasons, where he compiled 103 catches for 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named Conference-USA co-Newcomer of the Year in 2017 and as a senior was even on the Mean Green's leadership council.

While Guyton wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, he did stand out at his Pro Day workout, and impressed the Cowboys when invited to the team's Dallas Day.

His route-running speed stood out to the staff. So did his "grit."

To sum up his draft analysis, our Dane Brugler wrote this: "Overall, Guyton is currently a better athlete than wide receiver, but his play speed and separation quickness are worth developing at the back end of a roster."

And, voila, here he is, playing for the team he wore T-shirts of as a little guy, saying while sitting in the Cowboys locker room, "This truly is a life's blessings. I kind of don't feel like my life is a reality right now."

And if not coincidence enough, Guyton ends up being signed as a rookie free agent by his hometown favorite, but he also ends up on the same team his freshman-year teammate at Notre Dame plays for. Yep, says Jaylon Smith took him under his wing that red-shirt year during his tough times, showing him the ropes.

"He kind of recognized that I was facing adversity and stuff, and I feel like, without his guidance, without his tutelage to pump me up, I wouldn't be the person I am today. And that goes for on the field and off the field," Guyton says.

"I really cherished the opportunity to learn from him."

And how about this for yet another coincidence: As we sat down to talk in the veterans locker room, the seat we chose just happened to be that of Prescott, who came by and politely said excuse me, needing to get something out of his locker. And you should have seen how quickly the rookie popped up, Prescott saying no big deal and leaving. Nice way to meet your quarterback, who he undoubtedly had been cheering for the past three years.

But at least now Dak knows he's here.

So does this coaching staff, believe me.

And now, so do we, even though just an undrafted rookie free agent.

"I'm a grinder," says the 21-year-old who doesn't turn 22 until June 7 and already has earned his college degree. "There is nothing that's beyond me …

"If I didn't take the path I did, I wouldn't be here today."

Earning himself the opportunity for possibly many tomorrows.