This story originally appeared in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
Nearly an hour after the 2012 NFL Draft concluded, Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett took their seats to begin their obligatory press conference. All three gave opening statements and started discussing the seven players taken. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But seemingly out of the blue, Jerry Jones abruptly interrupted everybody as he announced the signing of undrafted rookie free-agent guard Ronald Leary, saying "the coaches think he might be the readiest to come in here and help us more than any offensive lineman."
Needless to say, Leary was appreciative of the compliment.
"It was an honor because Jerry Jones is one of the most powerful people in the world," Leary says. "He represents the best organization in football so for him to bring me up like that was an honor. I was so impressed when I heard about it."
Leary first put the thought of advancing to the NFL in his head when he was heading into his junior year at Memphis. Teammates told the budding blocker how impressed they were with his work ethic and grit in the trenches.
"Midway through my college career is when I realized I could play in the NFL. I had played since I was a redshirt freshman so I kept getting better," Leary says. "I think going into my junior year, a lot of the older guys told me how much potential I had. They told me to stay focused and my dreams would come true. I believed them and got to work."
The 6-3, 318-pounder became a force in Conference USA play, both for his ability to overpower opposing defensive linemen and for his display of vocal leadership in the locker room. But despite his efforts on and off the field, Memphis just couldn't put up many Ws. The Tigers finished with an atrocious 2-10 record in 2011, although Leary refused to let the losing get him down and never lost site of the ultimate prize – getting drafted.
"I looked at every week as an opportunity. Being a leader of the team the last two years, I preached about opportunity," Leary says. "I told the team we had a chance to win every game regardless of what our record was. That's the attitude I approached it with."
After the season, Leary began prepping for the NFL Scouting Combine right around the time an old injury report resurfaced and spread like wildfire.
"I was expecting to get selected just because of all the talk before the draft," Leary says. "But a few days before the draft, my agent told me that my knee condition had scared some teams off. When the draft got closer, I realized what was going on.
"It was an issue I had before my senior season. I had surgery on my knee, but it didn't affect me at all. I did the combine. I played in the all-star game. I did all of that with no problem. To me, I'm healthy. I just have to prove to everyone else that I'm healthy."
When the draft finally did roll around, Leary waited anxiously for his name to be called as he watched it from beginning to end. The moment never came. Suddenly, though, the phone rang and his emotions shifted dramatically.
The boy who grew up dreaming of playing for America's Team may not have been drafted, but he'd made it anyway.
"I was ecstatic when I got picked up. I've always been a Cowboys fan," Leary says. "A lot of things didn't go exactly the way I wanted them to, but there isn't a better place to be than with the Cowboys, so knowing I was going to come here made everything a lot better."
The signing didn't come as a total surprise for Leary, who knew there was a possibility Dallas would take the risk of drafting him or picking him up.
"I knew the Cowboys had interest because [offensive line] Coach [Bill] Callahan came to Memphis to work me out," Leary says. "I took a visit, too, so I had an idea they were pretty interested. It just worked out that I landed with Dallas."
Leary spent most of his first season with the team on the practice squad, getting promoted to the active roster late in the year. Now he is pumped up about getting his shot and is determined to prove skeptics wrong by showing what he can do on the gridiron.
"The best advice I've gotten is take advantage of the opportunity," Leary says. "Reps are really limited in the NFL so every time you get a chance or a rep, you have to take advantage of it."
With experienced offensive linemen like Doug Free and Nate Livings taking him under their wings, Leary is still making the transition to the pros and has performed well so far. He isn't overly concerned with winning a starting job. He simply wants to return the favor to Jones by doing all the right things that will enable him to succeed and be productive in the near future.
"I really don't think about playing time too much. I'm just trying to take everything I can from the veterans. We have a great group of veterans that help me out all the time," Leary says. "I'm just trying to learn as much as I can. … I want to be the best offensive lineman I can possibly be. I'm just trying to follow in their footsteps. I want to add on to this line."