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Spagnola: Sometimes It Pays To Be Just A Little Bit Lucky

IRVING, Texas– Now, who knows, maybe the real catchy name has drawn me to him.

         Or maybe it's the dreads since the Cowboys have lost the "Dreadhead Kid" this offseason to free agency.

         And quite possibly it's the highlight video, since at an early age, way back to maybe my sophomore year in high school, the head coach would say over and over to us when watching game film, "Pictures don't lie." This guy's scampering around will remind you of some video game whirling dervish.

         Just seems every season about this time you get drawn to one of these new guys. Not necessarily some high draft choice, but one of these relatively obscure players, most from an obscure place. A lower-round pick or maybe even a rookie free agent, one of those longs shots you end up pulling for.

         Sort of started back in 2004 with a local kid, Patrick Crayton, the second of three seventh-round picks for the Cowboys, he out of Northwestern Oklahoma State University who might have shown more grit than talent during the rookie minicamp when he was fighting through a case of plantar fasciitis but didn't dare pull himself out of drills since he knew Big Bill was watching closely.

         That carried on with guys like Barry Church, Dwayne Harris, Marcus Dixon, Cole Beasley and L'Damian Washington – guys who you would silently pulled for, those diamonds in the rough with even better back stories.

         Last year's guy, Washington, just couldn't stay healthy. Showed up with a bad toe and then was done in by a shoulder injury. After bouncing around five other teams, mostly practice squad stays, he was recently released off the Steelers injured reserve list.

         Maybe this year's choice will have more luck because since the day he was born, he has been known as Lucky. That's right, Lucky Whitehead, the undrafted free-agent wide receiver out of Florida Atlantic University where he essentially evolved into a Dwayne Harris starter kit, hair and all.

         He's a speedy, shifty wide receiver. He returns punts and kickoffs. And FAU wasn't opposed to handing him the ball, too. And as the Cowboys closed out the last of the allotted 10 OTA sessions at The Ranch on Thursday with the annual Cowboys U for local high school players, at least the coaching staff knows the 5-10, 183-pounder's name.


         Not to mention his number.


         "People will say, 'Oh you've got a sense of humor,'" our man Lucky says. "It's kind of funny, but at the same time, I'm not worried about that."

         So let's start with the name. Says he's been Lucky since the day he was born. As the story goes, his mom's nephew, Ralphlito Ross, walked into the delivery room and asked, "Where is Lucky at?"

         Oh, his birth certificate officially reads Rodney Whitehead Jr. But let's not let details get in the way of a great name that had nothing to do with anything he had done.

         Mom, dad, everyone who knows him calls him Lucky. He's so not Rodney.


         "If my mom calls me (Rodney) it's, uh oh, I did something wrong," Lucky says. "I usually don't answer to it, but if people use it, they are trying to be funny."

         Says when he started school most of the teachers in his little town of Manassas, Va., the town known for Confederate victories at Bull Run during the Civil War, already knew his name was Lucky. They bypassed the formalities.

         "Some people thought that was my real name," Lucky says of Lucky. "To this day, I've played with players that they don't even know my real name."

         OK, well, we outed that.

         So let's move on to the number: 13. Real cute, right?

         Well, he wore No. 1 at FAU. Says he's worn 11 and 22 also during his playing days. And when he got here, when they asked what number he'd like to wear, he says he wanted either 14 or 12. Well, 14 was taken (first-year wide receiver Reggie Dunn) and 12? Uh, kids these days.

         "They told me that one was retired," and his real innocence couldn't help from making you smile.

         So since he's not superstitious, he agreed to 13. Funny guy.

         Now for the most important part: Can he play?

         Well, in just these "underwear" workouts, he has caught the eye of the head coach. The wide receivers coach knows his name and number, which is huge for rookie free agents, especially if you use Parcells' barometer of identification since at this point Whitehead would have been either "hey 13" or "hey you." No sense knowing names when the odds are against you'll have to remember who the guy is for any length of time.

         Then there is this: The scouting department has been high on him from the beginning. Interestingly enough, when it was time to recruit/sign rookie free agents once the draft had been completed, and the Cowboys had made initial contact with Whitehead, the big guy was called in to close the deal.

         While last year's FAU Offensive Player of the Year and Conference-USA first-teamer did not get drafted, he already had received numerous calls from the likes of San Francisco and Chicago, among others, trying to sign him to a free-agent deal.

         So, yep, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got on the horn, and in 15 minutes time convinced Whitehead that Dallas was the place to be. Think about that, Jerry Jones on the phone with one Lucky Whitehead, who described the experience afterward as "a surreal moment."

         "I realized Dwayne Harris had left," Whitehead said, "and I checked other rosters," meaning for opportunities. "I'd seen a few games so I knew there was an opportunity here."

         He's right. Harris will be a load to replace. He was the punt returner. He was the kickoff returner. He was the fourth receiver, one good enough to throw him the ball in clutch situations or hand him the ball on jet sweeps. He also was strong enough to block on running plays from the wide receiver spot. And … and … he ended up leading the team with 18 special teams tackles.

         Those are a lot of open jobs.

         At this point, the Cowboys would consider last year's fifth-round pick Devin Street the fourth receiver, behind Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. As for the fifth, well, other than having signed A.J. Jenkins, a former first-round draft choice still trying to find his footing in the league, the competition for No. 5 consists of a bunch of rookie free agents and a first-year guy.

         But, it's not all about receiving. That guy must help on special teams if he's going to be active on game day. So far, after really only working on punt returns, of the bunch, Whitehead has been the only one out there fielding kicks. And if his enthusiasm is any indication, I'd say he would be a willing coverage guy on kicks.

         Remember, he led FAU and C-USA his senior year (spent two years at Dean College) with 76 catches for 706 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 24.7 on kickoff returns and he ran the ball 21 times for 210 yards and two more touchdowns.

         And I know what you're thinking: Well, that's against C-USA teams.

         Granted, but in the season opener against Nebraska, he caught five passes for 40 yards, including a 20-yarder for a touchdown, and had three kickoff returns for 105 yards, with a 44-yarder.

         One of his touchdown runs during 2014 was an 80-yarder against Middle Tennessee on a jet-sweep, and he had a 73-yard punt return for a score against Old Dominion.

         In other words, Lucky can scoot, thus his Tweeter username of @ninjafast22.

         We'll keep an eye on this guy during next week's mandatory minicamp and then in training camp in Oxnard, Calif. Who knows when one of these long shots, and the team for that matter, get, uh, Lucky on guys like this.

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