“You know I’m a dog person,” says the 6th Round and 217th overall 2016 NFL draft pick Rico Gathers, now a newly minted Dallas Cowboy, despite not playing an organized game of American Football since he was thirteen years old. Formerly a Baylor University basketball standout, Gathers-a 22-year old, 6’8”, 290-pound phenomenon-impressed NFL coaches during the pre-draft workout with his intelligence, bizarre speed and obvious athletic versatility. Sadly, it seems NFL coaches and scouts no longer ask draft prospects at the combine whether they’re a dog person or a cat person as a simple, fun, and yet somewhat cryptic, Freudian personality test, though it would make sense, as in 2016, things aren’t as binary as they once appeared to be.
Gathers isn’t the first basketball player to be morphed and shaped into a Dallas Cowboy. The newly positioned tight end, who will be mountaineering up the depth chart and nipping at the heels of presumed hall-of-famer Jason Witten, is following in the footsteps of former “b-ballers” turned Grid-Iron warriors, Cornell Green, Peter Gent, Percy Howard, Ken Johnson, Ron Howard and Manny Hendrix, to name a few. Antonio Gates, a nine-time pro-bowler and former Kent State power forward, might be a more accurate comparison, at least from Gathers’ perspective, as the young prospect has his sights set on a storied career.
We caught up with Gathers between practices for two separate phone conversations. The first telephonic tête-à-tête delved into a bit of Gathers’ personal life, including how his wife and one-year-old son (Rico Jr.) help to keep things in perspective, as well as the welcomed pioneer guidance provided by his older brother Greg, a former Georgia Tech defensive lineman, who agreed that his younger bro, who always envisioned a concerted go at the NFL, should probably steer clear of the injury prone landscape of high-level college football and have some fun with hoops instead. Gathers also spoke about that fateful call from the one and only Jerry Jones and how things have been pretty damn real ever since. The following is from the second phone conversation and is considerably and intentionally, lighter on its feet.
Kurt McVey: Hello Rico, again.
Rico Gathers: Oh, wow.
McVey: What can I say? I can’t get enough of you.
McVey: Outside of showing up and working hard everyday, tell me if you’re employing any personal strategy in terms of increasing your chance of seeing some action in the fall.
Gathers: Mentally, I’m still just trying to stay dialed in. Everything that the offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan) is putting on the board or saying in practice, I take it all in. I know it’s going to be a long season. I just need to be as prepared as Jason Witten (starting tight-end and second all time in career receptions and receiving yards, behind Tony Gonzalez). He’s the first man in line and I’m somewhere in-between. But as you know, in the NFL, anything can happen, I just have to be ready if it does.
McVey: Tell me about some of the off-the-field stuff. I know it’s still early, but are you already starting to feel some of the extra “life-pressure” that comes with being a professional athlete. The last time we spoke you told me that you have some good people in place to help with the financial stuff, but has anything unexpected snuck up on you yet?
Gathers: Definitely taxes. They really hit you hard. [Laughs]
McVey: You got blind-sided by the IRS. [Laughs]
Gathers: Oh yeah. But there’s others things you gotta pay out, like certain fees to the NFL Players Association for instance. What may look like a big payday actually starts to feel more like your normal 9-5, but with 28% skimmed right off the top.
McVey: I don’t want to talk too much about financial security, because as we already mentioned, anything can happen, but, in the short time since you’ve been drafted, what can you offer to high-school or college athletes, perhaps even your old teammates at Baylor, for instance, regarding what it means to be paid over six figures and how that may effect an athlete’s approach, even if subconsciously. Psychologically speaking, do you feel any different?
Gathers: On the field, I just play my hardest, no matter what, but for the most part, it’s the off the field stuff. When you walk into a bank, they treat you differently and start asking different questions when they finally see what you’re bringing in. Their attitude can change real quickly. It can get crazy. You have to ask yourself, are they protecting me or do they have other intentions.
McVey: Rico, I know you have some skills as far as rapping goes, but I think people still get a little freaked out about athletes with that particular interest or skill set. That being said, can you tell me a bit about the Cowboys’ music situation? Do you still have a big system in the locker room? If so, does it get territorial, or is everyone in their own world now with headphones?
Gathers: A lot of guys like the Beats headphones, a few of the guys have the Beats Pills in their lockers. [Desmond] “Dez” Bryant (wide receiver) is one of the main music guys. Right out of a meeting, before a walk-though or practice, he’ll throw on some music and get right into the zone.
McVey: What’s he listening to?
Gathers: He likes that hype music; some Migos, probably some Future, just to get his mind right. [Laughs] Orlando Scandrick (cornerback) likes to listen to a few of his homeboys, who are artists. Everybody else is on Jacques or Young Thug.
McVey: And you?
Gathers: I listen to a variety of music. It can be some people I used to kick it with back home. Like last night I went back to Waco to pick up some belongings and I was driving back to Dallas listening to my homeboy Quistar and I had to call and hit him up for some of his old stuff, which used to really pump me up.
McVey: Are you listening to any country music down there?
Gathers: That’s for the weight room. When we lift, we listen to Jimmy Dean, you know, some of that “Big Bad John.” We’ve gone through the entire Jimmy Dean collection a few times. It can get real weird. [Laughs] It’s cool though. Half the guys don’t know the words. It’s really become a Cowboys ritual; it’s just what they do.
McVey: Coaches can be tough, but have they thrown you any love lately, maybe even a compliment or two?
Gathers: I know the negatives. I know when I mess up, and I’ve gotten down on myself. But pretty often one of the older guys will be there to pick me up. How I see it, with the head coach (Jason Garrett), he’s always telling me I have to push myself, get better, and learn quickly. I just make sure I’m focused. The coaches though, they want you to succeed, and they want what’s best for you and the team. I feel that everyday.
McVey: When do the pads come out?
Gathers: We’ve got about a month and some change.
McVey: Feeling good? You ready to hit?
Gathers: Yeah man, I’ve been ready to hit. That’s one thing that I do know how to do! [Laughs]
McVey: No doubt.
Gathers: When I get to put those pads on for the first time, you know I’m gonna bust some heads.