Xavier Woods Jersey

Xavier Woods never realized just how much fun pro wrestling could be.

“When you go to work, you want to have fun, because when you’re having fun you’re not really working. And I’ve never had this much fun in my career. I can’t imagine something being a step up,” says Woods.

As one third of the wildly popular New Day with teammates Kofi Kingston and Big E, Woods has helped spread that fun throughout the WWE Universe for the past several years. One of the most entertaining acts in WWE, New Day have become a fan favorite and brought a revolution to tag-team wrestling.

Woods and his fellow unicorn-loving purveyors of positivity and fun, who made their tag-team debut on Nov. 28, 2014, have since released their own Booty-O’s cereal, hosted Wrestlemania and held a slew of tag-team titles.

Their in-ring accomplishments are noteworthy: two-time WWE Raw tag-team champions; three-time WWE Smackdown tag-team champions; and longest reigning tag-team champions in WWE history (483 days), breaking Demolition’s 28-year-old record of 478 consecutive days with the belts.

Born Austin Watson 32 years ago, the amicable Woods is a big part of the stable’s success. His route to the big time has come through dogged determination, hard work and a passion for sports entertainment.

Woods, whose New Day crew will be at the North Charleston Coliseum on Jan. 7 as part of a Smackdown Live show, says although he was a huge wrestling fan growing up, there was no “special moment or match” that made him want to become a professional wrestler.

“I didn’t have one of those, it’s just the first thing that I ever wanted to do. I remember the first time I got asked what I wanted to do. Clearly I wanted to be a pro wrestler, but I got laughed at. I was kind of the runt. I was never the tallest kid or the biggest kid or the strongest kid, so I would get laughed at when I’d say it.”

Later on, though, Woods realized it was possible to pursue his passion, and maybe even be successful at it.

“I can have a job where I get paid to travel around the world in shiny pants. Why would anyone want to do anything else? That sounded awesome. It was really a no-brainer for me after I realized that.”

Woods has strong ties to the state of South Carolina. As a student at Furman University in Greenville, he earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy.

That he attended Furman in the first place was strictly by happenstance.

Shortly after he was born in Columbus, Ga., Woods’ family moved to Inglewood, Calif., returning to Georgia a couple years later.

“I wanted to go back to California because I had always dreamed of going to school at UCLA. But it was clear across the country. I was also looking at the University of Miami … the same kind of climate pretty much, a good education and pretty good sports teams.

Woods was well on his way to Miami, where he was accepted, when he got a similar letter from Furman the next day. Perplexed, he recalls, he asked his mother, “What is this?”

“This is from another school you applied to,” she answered.

“No, I didn’t apply to this school,” Woods replied.

His mother then explained. “I took your stuff from Miami and changed some of the words so it would also make sense for Furman, and sent that off too.”

“Some of her friends told her that Furman was an amazing school with great educational programs. So she suggested I just give them a shot,” says Woods.

His mother’s intuition turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I went to Miami for a week, literally just partied the whole time I was there,” Woods recalls. “I knew if I went there, I would be getting nothing done. But I ended up going to Furman. The campus was beautiful. It was like one of the top 10 college campuses on the planet. And they had dropped a ton of money into their psychology program, and I already knew that’s what I wanted to major in. I loved the people there; I very much felt at home. I loved being in the South. It’s where I’m most comfortable.”

It’s also where the goal-oriented Woods would get his feet wet in the wrestling business.

“I was on the independent scene the day after I graduated from high school. I started training and had my first match two months later, right before I actually went to college.”

While Woods studied hard and did well in the classroom, he also was “one hundred percent” committed to wrestling.

“I wrestled five times a week. I found a place on Tuesday nights, so right after class I would go there. And then after Friday class, I would drive to Georgia or Virginia or wherever I was wrestling, and I’d wrestle Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, and then drive back to school for class at sometimes 8 a.m. on Monday.”

“I obviously missed out some of the social things in college, like fraternities and parties,” adds Woods. “I wasn’t there on the weekends when people were hanging out. But I was lucky enough to have a solid group of guys that I lived with who were incredible and with whom I am still friends to this day. They’d come to the matches with me and were always supportive. I was very lucky to have them, and if I hadn’t gotten the chance to go to Furman, I would have never met those guys.”

Woods would later earn his master’s degree from Walden University while working for WWE in its FCW developmental system (later NXT). He is currently working on a doctorate in educational psychology.

“Through that process, they actually allowed the talent to further continue their education through a yearly stipend,” Woods explains. “It’s been a huge help being a part of WWE and being able to do something that I love so much. As a company, I think they fully understand the importance of that. The smarter and more well-rounded their athletes, the better off they will be after their WWE life.”

Wrestling as Austin Creed, a moniker influenced by the Rocky series character Apollo Creed, Woods made a name for himself on the independent circuit working for NWA Anarchy before getting his first big break on national TV with TNA in 2007.

Adopting the ring name Consequences Creed, he paired with R-Truth (Ron Killings) as a team known as Truth and Consequences.

After three years in TNA and a stint with New Japan Pro Wrestling, Woods signed a developmental deal with WWE in July 2010. In WWE, he originally used his real name for his ring moniker before coming up with Xavier Woods.

“(TNA referee) Earl Hebner used to call me ‘Tiger,’ so I went with the last name Woods because I thought it was funny,” says Woods. “I’m a huge fan of X-Men, and just intelligence in general, and the leader in charge is named Prof. Charles Xavier. I took Xavier from him, and put together the two names. Luckily it got through creative and everything, and my name is now Xavier Woods.”

The concept of “New Day” was a collaborative effort, says Woods. At the time, Woods, Kingston and Big E were simply trying to have fun and hold on to their jobs. While all possessed talent, forming a new act combining the three was a leap of faith.

“It (the concept) was mine from a standpoint of wanting to come together, and then it’s been stuff from everybody as we’ve gone along. That’s nice because we have very similar, but very different, trains of thought. Where I lack, E picks up. Where E lacks, Kofi picks up. It’s become a very well-rounded group. We just know each other so well.”

But it took some convincing and proving to WWE head honcho Vince McMahon that the act could work.

“Obviously you never know, you can only hope, but that was always the goal that I wanted to attain,” says Woods. “You have these goals and you set them. You know what you want to do. You know what people have done before you in similar positions, such as a three-man group. You’ve only seen it be able to be taken so far before the group has to call it quits or they can’t do anything interesting anymore. So that was always not the fear, but the thought in the back of our minds. What all could we really do with this?”

The threesome spent six months working house shows and barnstorming ideas as they attempted to get their chemistry down. Billled as gospel singers preaching the “power of positivity” in their in-ring TV debut in late 2014, a gimmick pitched by McMahon, the team initially was met by a chorus of jeers from the audience.

But with some fine-tuning, New Day shook off their rocky start. Once the act was allowed to improvise and tweak the gimmick, they won over the audience with antics that included making unicorn gestures and wearing plastic horns during their entrance, using the word “booty” as their catchphrase and introducing Booty-O’s cereal as they danced and gyrated in the ring.

When he wasn’t in a match, Woods would be at ringside playing a trombone he dubbed “Francesca” and getting the crowd involved. They soon became one of the hottest acts in WWE.

“Being able to spend the time together before we actually debuted on TV really helped us,” says Woods. “By the time we debuted on TV, the sky was the limit. It was solely based on our chemistry that we were going to make something happen. And then that turned into we’re going to make everything happen.”

Hosting Wrestlemania 33 at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium was a pinnacle for the popular triumvirate.

“That’s something a child might dream of … hosting Wrestlemania someday,” says Woods. “When we got the call about doing it, of course we wanted to host Wrestlemania. They thought that we might be averse to it because we wanted to have a match. That would be awesome to have a match, but who’s gotten to host Wrestlemania? It’s a very short list.”

Their improvisational skills have also endeared the fan base to New Day.

“We have a great team of writers who are amazing. If we’re having trouble thinking of something, they’ve got ideas on deck. It’s all a big family, group effort. A lot of what we do is improv. We just always want to be in touch. We talk about stuff that’s funny to us. We feel like if it’s funny to us, hopefully it’s funny to other people. If not, at least it’s funny to us.”

Having a firm grasp and understanding what their role is has helped New Day become well-rounded and stay the course for the past four years.

“I think the three of us are very lucky to be able to be where we currently are,” says Woods. “But I think we are there because we’ve put the work in. We try to understand everything we possibly can outside wrestling. WWE is not just a wrestling company. It’s an entertainment industry. There’s a lot more than the wrestling. We do a lot more than what you see in the ring.”

While there’s always rumors of teams breaking up and individuals going their separate ways, Woods doesn’t envision that happening to New Day. In fact, he’s almost sure that’s not in the cards for his teammates, and says he would even retire before that happens.

“More importantly, it’s the best career move for all three of us (to stay together),” says Woods, noting the fate of others who have gone their separate ways.

“New Day’s staying together forever. In the easiest terms, it’s the most fun option for us.”

Close friends outside the ring, the three have developed a tight relationship and bond, and Woods says they complement one another.

“Obviously Kofi was killing it already. E was doing well. I wasn’t really doing much,” Woods said. “The group has helped me become more recognized and things like that. But you also think about the things that Kofi and me were doing. They’ve gotten way more opportunities as well because of being part of the group.

“It’s helped all three of us make sure that we’re on TV, make sure that we get microphones in our hands, and possibly the most important thing in the company, it’s helped us with opportunities to have amazing matches with other teams that are just as amazing. So when you get to have a Hell in a Cell match, none of us had ever been in that position before. By having this group effort and being able to attack this as a group, we’ve been able to do a lot more than if we were just doing this alone.”

Woods has also made a name for himself in the gaming world. It’s not only a passion for Woods. It’s part of who he is.

“I’m sitting in front of my computer right now setting up to do a live stream,” he says. “I was on last night for about three hours. Honestly it’s the other side of my life that I’m just kind of obsessed with. It’s my wind-down, it’s where I get my head right.”

Unlike the social aspect of heavy drinking and partying of past generations, Woods has created an atmosphere where wrestlers can bond by playing video games in locker rooms and hotel rooms after the show.

The lifelong video game aficionado’s YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown, which regularly sees him and friends including other WWE stars playing games, has nearly two million subscribers.

“I’ve been playing games all my life, but as far as doing the YouTubes, it’s been three years that I’ve had UpUpDownDown. Then I just started up the Twitch channel to have more of a live-stream experience with people.”

For Xavier Woods, the most enjoyable part of being a WWE Superstar is bringing joy and laughter to fans.

“Just seeing the smiles on people’s faces, whether it’s at a show or a signing, because that was me. I know how that feels. To know we now have the ability to do that for people … that’s insane for me.”

Recently while Woods was in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, on a media tour, he was approached by a young fan who immediately recognized the wrestler.

“To have a seven-year-old kid on the other side of the world know my name is a very humbling thing. I’m just a regular dude from Georgia who likes wrestling. How do you know me? That’s awesome. The reach that WWE has is amazing.”

As for memorable experiences in the Lowcountry, Woods smiles when he thinks about a particular one.

“This is going to sound very weird, but I had really good (Krispy Kreme) donuts there one time. They’re so good. I was at a friend’s house, and they had a bowl of donuts. We sat down and ate all of them.”

As for Woods’ trusty trombone, which he plays as part of New Day’s ring entrance, it comes quite naturally.

“I’ve been playing trombone since the sixth grade. People always ask me if I just tried to learn trombone so I could use it in the act. I actually was a concert-level trombonist,” says Woods, who was featured playing trombone and tambourine as well as dancing and singing on the Postmodern Jukebox cover of “What is Love” music video.

“I play every once in a while. I’m obviously nowhere as good as I was when I was younger. But I can still play something by ear, which is nice.”

And he’s good enough to play in front of 20,000 people.

“My old band teacher told me he didn’t know this for a fact, but he was pretty sure I had done more for trombones than anyone in the history of this school.”

Xavier Woods will be at the North Charleston Coliseum as part of WWE’s Smackdown Live event Monday night, joining forces with New Day partners Big E and Kofi Kingston in a three-way tag bout with The Usos and defending Smackdown tag-team champs The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro).

In other matches on the show: AJ Styles will defend his WWE championship against Daniel Bryan in the main event, while Shinsuke Nakamura, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe will meet in a three-way match.

New Smackdown women’s champion Asuka will join Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch in a special Miz TV segment. Also featured will be Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Carmella, Naomi and more.

Jourdan Lewis Jersey

With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn’t far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.

Today, we continue the series with cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
“Next man up” is one of head coach Jason Garrett’s popular adages. Jourdan Lewis embodied that phrase at different times last season – not so much as an injury replacement, but simply because he stayed ready for opportunities.

A third-round draft pick in 2017, Lewis went from part-time starter to fourth cornerback in 2018 under new secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard. But he made impactful plays when called upon (see “2018 Highlight” below) and pitched in on offense and special teams (2 “jet sweep” runs for 12 yards, 2 kickoff returns for 18 yards).More than anything – really, through little fault of his own – it’s Lewis’ difficulty finding snaps in a talented secondary.

As Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said recently, “I think we’ve got one of the best corner staffs in the league in terms of depth. When Jourdan Lewis is not getting a lot of plays, I think that tells you a lot.” Although the 5-foot-10 Lewis isn’t the tall, rangy corner prototype Richard has coached in previous stops, the Cowboys still value his ball skills and instincts. But Byron Jones crowded the depth chart by moving to corner and producing an All-Pro season. Anthony Brown also had a solid year after earning the No. 3 corner spot in training camp. It’s a good problem for Richard and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.Play for play, Lewis’ game against the Saints’ vaunted offense was among the most productive by anybody on the roster last season. In only eight defensive snaps, he posted a tackle, a pass breakup and a fingertip victory-sealing interception against Drew Brees. He also did a solid job covering versatile running back Alvin Kamara.

Players generally like when there’s a coaching change, especially if that player felt he wasn’t getting treating fairly. Jourdan Lewis was a starter and a productive player during his rookie season, but the secondary coach change from Joe Baker to Kris Richard left him on the outside looking in. Richard moved Byron Jones from safety to corner, replacing Lewis, who suddenly was reduced not even to a nickel but the sixth man in the dime. To say Lewis was disappointed would have been an understatement, and it wasn’t until the coaches began to use Lewis on offense that he once again gained his swagger back. Lewis might not have played a ton of offensive snaps, but it made him feel useful again. Lewis’ demeanor improved, and so did his play, especially when given the assignment of carrying Kamara all over the field in a key victory against the Saints in primetime. In Lewis’ young career that was his finest hour and it proved to the coaches that if given the opportunity to excel he was more than capable of doing the job.

Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis joined the The Fan’s Ben & Skin show to talk about the growth he experienced during his rookie season, and some of the competition he’ll have to face heading into his second year in Dallas. Here are some of the highlights:
There’s a bunch of different personalities, but at the end of the day we’re teammates. All those guys are great guys honestly, so it’s been easy to come in and just gel with those guys–especially guys that you came in with. Chidobe [Awuzie] is probably one of the most competitive people I’ve met in anything. He wan’t to drive faster than me if we’re going somewhere. It’s just like, you understand each others personalities, so its just like “okay, it’s a give or take every time”. It’s definitely worked out for us and I’m just excited to see where it leads us.

In the beginning, you’re just playing. [Coaches] aren’t really expecting anything from you and you’re just going out there and just doing what they ask you to do. And then, once you get into it, they start asking you to do a little more within your role as it increases. You have to do all these things, and mentally you have to really lock in because they’re leaning on you…

At the end of the day, it’s football and you have to be a professional now. You don’t have school or anything like that you have to do. You just have to go out there and go to practice, get the game plan down and watch film. Once I got that down, what to look for in my opponents and stuff like that, [the game] kind of slowed down for me. I’m expecting it to be even better this year.
That’s what we have to do. Coach Marinelli tells us that we won’t get on the field unless we’re physical. [The Denver game] was definitely an outlier. We learned from that, but its not who we are honestly. That’s a defense you’ll never see again because we’re preparing our hardest to get in season and be in mid-season form in Week 1.

You have a very small window for error and that’s the difference between having a pick and the other guy scoring on you. It’s crazy how small that window is. When you’re in college, you have those games where you know you’re going to have big numbers–nobody’s going to catch a ball. And then you have games like when you play Ohio State or Florida State. It’s like that in the NFL and you have to play every game. There’s someone on that team who can potentially go off on you, so you have to be on your A game every time you step on the field. That’s pretty much the difference I saw from college to the pros. It really doesn’t matter. I think the outside is easier to me–there’s less to learn. As the nickel, your run fits are different every single play. There are so many adjustments in the nickel, where as at corner, very few coverages.

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis was found not guilty of misdemeanor domestic violence Tuesday following an alleged altercation with his ex-girlfriend in March, according to ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein.

Lewis, 21, pleaded not guilty to one count of misdemeanor domestic violence a month before the NFL Draft after he engaged in a late-night argument with Nikole Miller.

According to MLive.com’s John Counts, Lewis admitted to hitting Miller with the pillow he was sleeping on but was “adamant” he did not strike her with his hands.

“None of this was malicious intent,” Lewis said, per Counts. “I was just trying to get out of the house.”

A former University of Michigan standout, Lewis was selected 92nd overall by the Cowboys in the third round of April’s draft.

As a rookie, he’s expected to compete for snaps as a slot cornerback after the Cowboys used four draft picks to bolster their secondary in advance of the 2017 season.

Chidobe Awuzie Jersey

Absolutely. I don’t care how many Saints tattoos he has. If the Cowboys under-perform this season and decide to hire a new head coach, Payton is a real possibility. I just don’t think he’ll be able to turn Jerry Jones down if Jones really wants him. Payton can say whatever he wants now because the job isn’t available. If it becomes available, though, I believe he’ll be very interested.I’ll give you my top 5: 5.) Dorance Armstrong, 4.) Xavier Woods, 3.) Connor Williams, 2.) Chidobe Awuzie, 1.) Michael Gallup. Gallup is my No. 1 because I think his improvement will be the most noticeable. He should see more playing time and be more productive, not only because it’s another year with Dak, but also because it’s a full year with Amari Cooper and Jason Witten. I think the veterans will helphim see even more opportunities. Teams will first gameplan to take away Ezekiel Elliott, Cooper and Witten. And then you add in Randall Cobb. Gallup should benefit from a lot of favorable matchups. The other four have significant upside and should be more comfortable entering this season.It could help public perception, but I don’t think it matters much to the Cowboys because they were never going to be in the ballpark that he ended up getting paid from the Ravens. If the deal was for a little less then I think it would depend on how Thomas played. If he stayed healthy and performed like the All-Pro safety he has been, there would be plenty of second-guessing. But because the money was so great, I don’t think any realistic comparisons should be made.

In the last game of the regular season, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie grabbed not only his first interception of the year, but the first by a Cowboys outside corner all season.

Six yards away from the end zone, Giants quarterback Eli Manning tried to connect with Sterling Shepard in the corner of the end zone, but Awuzie read the play perfectly and snagged the ball out of the air.

On the Giants’ next drive, DeMarcus Lawrence moved past 10 sacks on the season, hitting Eli Manning in the backfield and forcing a fumble. That made him the first Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware to post double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons. Ware did that for five straight seasons from 2007-2011.

Antwaun Woods recovered the fumble, although it was initially thought to be an interception before the ruling was changed.

You thought this was it.

The Eagles had limped to 4-4, had a bye, added Golden Tate and were poised to turn things around and make a run at defending their title.

They’d start it by stomping on the Dallas Cowboys, who had just lost at home to the Tennessee Titans (who beat the Pats on Sunday) and were ripped by their former star QB Troy Aikman.

So much for all of that.

The Eagles lost 27-20 to fall to 4-5, and we’re probably better off looking at mock drafts and looking forward to the playoffs.

“This one hurt,” Carson Wentz said. “We realize a lot of people are going to want to write us off at this point and now it’s just time to play ball and try and go…

Unless you follow the Dallas Cowboys, few NFL fans have probably ever heard of Chidobe Awuzie. That is until now. Saturday night in a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cowboys second-year defensive back and former Colorado Buffaloes star had perhaps the play of the preseason thus far. In the closing minute of the second quarter, Awuzie leaped and tipped a Jeff Driskel pass one-handed before coming down with an incredible interception, his first of the preseason.

Colorado Buffaloes fans have been well aware of Awuzie’s athletic abilities for quite some time now. The San Jose, Calif. native was a four-year starter and played all four positions in the secondary during his time in Boulder. As a senior in 2016, Awuzie was a key contributor on a Buffaloes team that won 10 games and reached the school’s first ever Pac-12 Championship game. He finished his career with 273 total tackles, nine sacks, three interceptions and 35 pass deflections.

Following his success in Boulder, Awuzie was selected by the Cowboys with the 60th pick (second round) in the 2017 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, Awuzie saw action in 10 games (six starts) and recorded 25 tackles, seven passes defended and an interception. This season, per the team’s first unofficial depth chart released on August 9th, Awuzie is projected to start at cornerback for the Cowboys alongside Byron Jones.

Selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2017 NFL Draft in the second round and 60th overall pick, Chidobe Awuzie began to turn heads in his sophomore season in 2018 when he was perceived to have a big chance of becoming the most dominant cornerbacks that the Dallas Cowboys have had in years.

Injuries marred his rookie season seeing him play just 10 games, however, at the second time of asking, Chidobe’s career couldn’t look more promising. Let’s take you on a journey of his life and career so far.

As his name has already given away, Chidobe Awuzie has Nigerian roots. He was born on May 24, 1995, to Nigerian parents who immigrated to the states to chase the American dream and fortunately, they are now living it in San Jose, California where Chidobe was born. Chidobe is the youngest of three children. His first name Chidobe means “God will guide me,” while his surname Awuzie, could be described as someone who has gone through a lot and has finally achieved success.

Chidobe’s parents were born in Lagos, Nigeria but immigrated to the United States to get a better education. His mom Victoria Awuzie graduated from Philander Smith College in Arkansas while his dad, Goerge Awuzie earned his degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State in Durant. After graduation, they each got a job at the department of motor vehicles in San Jose, California and soon began raising kids in the Bay Area.

Awuzie’s parents raised him with Nigerian principles that had helped them achieve success. Chidobe was taught by his parents the essence of taking his academic serious, thus though he fell in love with football in school, Chidobe knew better than to joke with his academics. Consequently, he graduated half a year earlier with a degree in business.

Chidobe Awuzie began his footballing career at Oak Grove High School in San Jose, California playing at the cornerback and sometimes wide receiver position. He impressed greatly in high school and was by ESPN and Rivals.com rated as a three-star recruit. Awuzie earned a lot of honors in high school where he also tried his hands at basketball and track sports including running and long jump.

Awuzie indeed made his parents proud in high school, receiving scholarship offers from “Power 5 schools,” including Utah and Washington State, however, he committed to the University of Colorado Boulder. He began to impress from his freshman season, starting 7 games and appearing in a total of 12. His 645 snaps in defense became the third-highest by a freshman in the school’s history.

Chidobe Awuzie recorded even more impressive stats in his junior year when he made a total of 90 tackles from 13 games. His 78 solo tackles and 4 sacks set the record for the most tackle from a defensive back in CU’s history. By the end of the year, he was named to the All-Pac-12 football team second-team.

With all of these stats, Chidobe received a handful of honors as he prepared for his final college year. He got named to both the Thorpe Award and Nagurski Award watch list given to the best defensive back in the nation and the best defensive player in college football respectively. He was named to the All-Pac-12 second team, a second time in 2016.

Awuzie wowed at the NFL Combine hitting a SPARQ score of 137. SPARQ is used to test a player’s athleticism. He worked out privately for a handful of NFL teams including the Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, and the Dallas Cowboys who would select him in the second round as their 28th pick and 60th overall pick. Prior to the draft, NFL draft experts had predicted that Awuzie would get selected in the 1st or 2nd round. ESPN rated him the 7th best cornerback while Sports Illustrated placed him at number 15.

On May 11th, 2017, Chidobe Awuzie inked his first professional football contract, a four-year, $4.28 million contract that came with a signing bonus of $1.25 million. With that money, Awuzie has been able to afford a life of luxury. On his mother’s birthday in January 2017, Awuzie bought her a white Range Rover, a car she’d crave since she was a kid. The car retails upwards of $50,000. Awuzie himself rides a sleek Mercedes Benz.

This bloke managed just 10 games in his rookie season however, he recorded 25 tackles, 7 pass deflections, and 1 forced fumble.

Chido, as he is affectionately called by teammates, stands at exactly 6 feet tall, that is 1.83 m. He weighs 202 pounds (92 kg). His pre-draft measurables per the NFL Combine showed his Arm length at 30 5⁄8 in (0.78 m) and his hand size at 8 1⁄2 in (0.22 m).

Taco Charlton Jersey

Of the Dallas Cowboys’ last six first-round draft picks, only one hasn’t made the Pro Bowl — defensive end Taco Charlton.

That isn’t a knock on him, but the Cowboys desire more production out of the 2017 first-round selection. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones highlighted that in a radio interview this week.

“Taco obviously hasn’t made his way into the starting lineup yet. He had a (shoulder) injury last year, which set him back,” Jones said Thursday on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “He didn’t necessarily come back as strong as he did before he got hurt. So, this is a big year for Taco to step up. We certainly need him with our defensive front.”

Charlton registered just 27 tackles and one sack in 11 games last year. He’s recorded four sacks in 27 career contests.

The Cowboys sent a Brinks trunk to DeMarcus Lawrence’s address to re-sign him this offseason. In order for Lawrence to see fewer offensive line shifts, chip blocks and double-teams, consistency on the right edge is paramount. Charlton hasn’t shown that he can create a steady pass rush, so Dallas traded for Robert Quinn. The decision was an indication that the Cowboys feel more comfortable with a proven defensive end on the right side in Quinn while Randy Gregory is suspended.

Maybe Jones’ call-out and the team’s decision to add another pass rusher will motivate Charlton in Year 3. The Cowboys’ coaching staff certainly hopes so.

The Cowboys let veteran defensive backs walk in 2017 free agency because they believed they could become younger and more versatile through the draft. While the newbies all suffered growing pains as rookies, they showed talent and promise, too, with all of them playing on the field together by late in their rookie seasons.

The trend continued in 2018 as Awuzie and Woods settled in as starters at cornerback and free safety and Lewis contributed as a slot corner. Woods tied for the team lead in interceptions with two.

Dallas Cowboys first-round pick Taco Charlton already ranks among the NFL’s best when it comes to his shoe game.

Prior to his regular-season debut on Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants, Charlton took to the field for warm-ups in Nike cleats featuring a fighting taco.

This isn’t the first time Charlton has had some fun with his unique nickname. During the preseason, he broke out a taco-themed celebration with his teammates after sacking Oakland Raiders quarterback EJ Manuel.

The 2019 regular season is still over 130 days away. But it’s never too early to talk about point spreads, training camp position battles, players with something to prove, projected starting lineups, last-minute draft-day considerations… and yet another bizarre story out of Oakland, this one bringing to mind a funny recollection from a Cowboys legend.

Defensive end Taco Charlton is the only first-round draft pick by the Cowboys since 2013 not to have made the Pro Bowl. Charlton has had some stumbles in his young career, but team executive vice president Stephen Jones feels it’s time for the Michigan alum to increase his production.
“Taco obviously hasn’t made his way into the starting lineup yet,”“He had a [shoulder] injury last year, which set him back. He didn’t necessarily come back as strong as he did before he got hurt. So this is a big year for Taco to step up. We certainly need him with our defensive front.”

DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are unquestionably the twin terrors of the Dallas defensive line. But with Randy Gregory’s status up in the air, Charlton stands to see the most extra work as part of any rotation that comes about. He should get the opportunities to make an impact; whether he actually will remains to be seen.

The Dallas Cowboys have been outstanding when it comes to drafting players in the first round. In the Jason Garrett era, the team has selected eight players on Day 1 and six of them have turned into All-Pro players (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Ezekiel Elliott, Byron Jones, and Leighton Vander Esch). Only Morris Claiborne and Taco Charlton haven’t panned out. Claiborne is gone and after just two seasons with the Cowboys, one has to wonder if Charlton will soon follow.

When the Cowboys drafted Charlton in 2017, the state of the defensive line was quite different. Nobody knew that DeMarcus Lawrence was going to turn into the next great defensive lineman as he was coming off a season where he only played in nine games and had just one sack. Randy Gregory was facing a year-long suspension and wouldn’t see the field that season. And the team’s reigning sack leader from the previous year was free agent Benson Mayowa with only six sacks. Things were not looking good for the defensive end position group.

Last year at this time, Lawrence was coming off a breakout season after recording 14.5 sacks. The team also had plenty of wild card guys on ice because they never knew for certain if Lawrence was going to be the answer, causing the front office to franchise tag him so they could buy themselves more time. It ended up costing them a little more money, but now they have a definitive answer – Tank is legit. And fast forward to today and the team looks much stronger at the position.

Lawrence and Quinn are the team’s stud edge rushers. Gregory’s future is up in the air, but the team just extended him another season and he would be the next man in line if he is available. The team also drafted Dorance Armstrong last year and then signed Kerry Hyder this offseason. So, where does Charlton fit in all this? On the outs.

We could talk about how the team could still save a nice developmental guy in their back pocket for later, but that’s what they have in Armstrong. There just isn’t enough action for both of these guys to get reps. The team has high expectations entering the 2019 season and that means they’re going to roll with the most effective pass-rushing arrangement. There won’t be a lot of reps for unproven guys still trying to showcase their stuff. Should the Cowboys consider moving on from Charlton?

Right now, his stock is not very high. Sure, he’s a former first-round pick, but all that means nothing right now. A team could still see some potential in him as Charlton does posses traits that should appeal to teams that are looking for pass rushing depth. And it’s also possible that putting him on the trading block could just look like the Cowboys front office acting in haste on the heels of their recent defensive end moves. Trading for Quinn, re-signing Lawrence, extending Gregory, and adding Hyder – the team could have just as easily painted Charlton out of the pass-rushing picture.

It’s unsettling to think that Charkton is a sunk cost to where the right move is to just pull the plug on him, but not all of the Cowboys first-round picks are going to be winners. The blow is lessened when you consider the team’s defensive end position group is stronger than it’s been in a long time. The Cowboys have to put on their forward face and are thinking about what’s best from this point on. If they could find a team who still sees upside in Charlton, maybe they could swing a deal. The Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccanners, New Orleans Saints, and Pittsburgh Steelers all had scheduled visits with Charlton before the 2017 draft; would any of those teams still have an interest?

Charlton would not provide much in return, but his low cap cost over the next two years means teams aren’t risking much. He also comes with a fifth-year option that can be exercised next offseason should he flash some type of potential. All the Cowboys could get in exchange for him would be a Day 3 pick, but what if they could squeeze out a late fourth-rounder? Wouldn’t there be players in that range that you’d rather have versus having Charlton way down there on the depth chart?

How the Cowboys view him obviously plays a significant part. Maybe they see things completely different. They could still have high hopes for him as part of their future. Maybe he’s still the answer opposite Lawrence if Quinn leaves after the 2019 season. That scenario seems unlikely and if the team starts to get a sense that Charlton doesn’t have a role on the team, why not cut their losses and at least get something for him?

Charlton was a healthy scratch for two games last season and there could be some maturity issues that are holding him back. If you follow him on social media, then you’re aware that he’s no stranger to Twitter battles as he’s always on the defensive. He just doesn’t come across as a guy who Jason Garrett would keep around very long if he wasn’t going about the game the right way. Garrett has said plenty times before, how you got here doesn’t matter – it’s all about what you do right now. And let’s face it, Taco’s not doing much. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs.

Mike White Jersey

For the second time in three years but only the third in 10, the Cowboys drafted a developmental quarterback in the middle rounds of the NFL draft. This year, Western Kentucky’s Mike White was drafted in the fifth round. On the surface he seems like a solid fit to be a backup quarterback for the Cowboys. Circumstances, however, could lead to much bigger things.

White, who played two years at South Florida before transferring due to coaching philosophy change, was an intriguing draft prospect. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, White looks like he belongs in the NFL. White threw for over 11,000 yards with 74 touchdowns and a career passer rating of 142.9 over the course of his college career.

A two-year starter at Western Kentucky, White admirably filled the shoes of Doughty (school’s all-time leading passer) in WKU’s spread, shotgun offense, posting career numbers in 2016. He faced increased adversity in 2017 with the departures of his head coach Jeff Brohm, left tackle Forrest Lamp (sacked 44 times in 2017, up from 18 in 2016) and four of his top six receivers from 2016, including the school’s all-time leader receiver Taywan Taylor.
But his play didn’t show a drastic drop off, joining Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph as the only FBS quarterbacks to throw for 4,000+ yards each of the last two seasons. With only one season of starting experience in high school and four different offensive coordinators (and three different head coaches) in his four playing seasons in college, White’s mental toughness and retention habits have been tested and prepared him for life in professional football.

The Cowboys were patient and now have another quarterback to compete with second-year player Cooper Rush for the backup position behind Dak Prescott.

For 2018, that should be White’s goal; beat out Rush for QB2. The Cowboys have kept three quarterbacks on their roster before. As recently as 2016, the Cowboys had Prescott, Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo all on the 53-man roster. In 2017, they also kept three for a time with Prescott, Kellen Moore and Rush.

There’s no reason the Cowboys couldn’t do that again in 2018, but obviously there is much more value in keeping just two QBs and using that extra slot on someone who will see on-field action.

After how Rush played in 2017, beating him out for the backup spot won’t be an easy task for White. Rush was by far one of the best preseason quarterbacks, completing 38 of 51 passes for 398 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

His performance forced the Cowboys to keep him on the roster and he eventually made Kellen Moore expendable. Yes, even in Scott Linehan’s eyes.

Because of this, the battle between Rush and White should be very interesting all summer and deserves to be one of the marquee camp battles to keep an eye on in Oxnard.

But no matter where White falls on the depth chart in 2018, there is a much bigger opportunity coming for him on the horizon which should be his motivation.

After the 2018 season, Prescott would’ve started three seasons in the NFL and he will be eligible to negotiate a new contract with the Cowboys with only one year left on his deal. This very well could happen, as looking at Prescott’s two years as a whole shows a mighty impressive start to a career.

Prescott caught lightning in a bottle in 2016 along with Ezekiel Elliott, but they weren’t able to keep that same momentum in 2017.

Of course, much of that had to do with Elliott’s suspension and injuries to Tyron Smith but anyway cut , Prescott struggled at times in 2017.

His 13 interceptions were certainly a jump from the four he threw his rookie season. A lot of this can be attributed to Prescott trying to do too much to help the offense but it also highlights that a quarterback needs to do a lot for the offense sometimes.

With Jason Witten and Dez Bryant gone, 2018 has become a huge year for Prescott; he must show he is the leader of the offense and capable of putting the team on his back.

If he can’t, all bets could be off for 2019.

If the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs for the sixth time in Jason Garrett’s eight-year tenure, there’s a good chance the staff will be let go and new coaches will be brought in.

If that happens, a new regime may have no loyalty to Prescott and could look to open a quarterback competition.

So for White, he has the immediate task of earning his roster spot depending on how the season plays out, he may be fighting for something much more important next year.

Either way, his presence on the roster alone should create some very good competition to a position that hasn’t really had it much over the last decade.

The Cowboys took Western Kentucky QB Mike White in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft. Here are five things to know about White.
White grew up in Florida and attended NSU University School, and led the school to a 13-0 record and a 3A Florida State title. He was also a 3A second-team selection in Florida by the Associated Press. He also finished fifth in the Florida Dairy Farmer’s Mr. Football voting.

White started his career with the South Florida Bulls. He played immediately as a true freshman in 2013, but struggled and threw for 1,083 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions in six games. He threw for 1,639 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in his sophomore season at USF.

White then transferred to Western Kentucky and turned into a star for the Hilltoppers. He passed for 8,540 yards, 63 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions in two seasons at Western Kentucky.

Football wasn’t White’s first sport. He actually grew up as an elite baseball talent in Florida. He named a Louisville Slugger All-American as a junior in high school. He went 9-2 as a pitcher his junior year with a 0.43 ERA.

But he later found football and never looked back.

—Big arm. White has the strength to get the football to all three levels and outside the hash.

—High football IQ. Knows what he is supposed to do.

—Able to use touch to drop the ball over defenders.

—Can push the ball downfield.

—Three different coaches and produced well in each scheme.

—Struggles with pressure, and he saw plenty of pressure behind a poor offensive line.

—Lacks mobility in the pocket and on the move.

—Locks on to his first target, missing open receivers.

—Tries to beat good coverage with strong arm.

—Too many turnovers: 17 fumbles, 15 interceptions and 62 sacks during two seasons at Western Kentucky.
White is one of our favorite developmental prospects in this draft. He has solid mechanics, good accuracy and enough tools to see the field once he gets into the league.

Dalton Schultz Jersey

—A true dual-threat tight end who balanced the job of being a lead blocker and a receiver.

—Plays with a mean streak and looks for work as a blocker. Won’t shy away from defenders no matter his assignment.

—Has a lean, athletic frame and can shake defenders with the ball in his hands.

—Uses his hands well as a blocker and will lock on and drive defenders off the edge. Was almost an extra lineman at Stanford.

—Explosive short-area athlete who can create space for himself as a route-runner.

NEGATIVES

—Oddly built at 6’5 ⅜” and 244 pounds, but with 31 ¼” arms and a wingspan of only 75 ⅜”.

—Not used much as a receiver (55 career catches).

—Only managed 15 reps on the bench at the combine.

—Looks like he could add weight to his frame and improve poor strength.

—Not a vertical threat at tight end; won’t run away from coverage

OVERALL
Schultz is the best blocking tight end in the 2018 class. Coming out of Stanford, he understands pro-style offenses, blocking schemes and route trees. While he was limited in his pass-catching production, he has the traits to post better numbers in the pros than he did in college.

When Dalton Schultz was drafted in the fourth round this offseason, it was an attempt to replace at least a little of the production of Jason Witten who had surprised everyone with his decision to retire during the draft. Schultz was coming out of Stanford and had primarily been used as a blocking tight end for Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, and rarely saw time as a pass catcher.

The Cowboys had passed on other tight ends during the draft, some who were more accomplished pass catchers. Through most of the year, Dallas struggled to find any production out of any of their tight ends. Blake Jarwin had a troubling case of the drops, Rico Gathers and Schultz just never really made any impact, and Geoff Swaim finally started to emerge as a tight end weapon only to go down with an injury.

In Swaim’s absence, someone needed to step up as Swaim had become an integral part of the offense. Schultz is battling Jarwin to be the guy.

Jarwin and Schultz have become the two tight ends that Dallas has used the most since Swaim went down, but the rookie is starting to impress for a first-year guy taken late in the draft. Schultz has started each of the last four games for the Cowboys, and he’s caught eight of the ten passes thrown his way in that time span. His targets have been gradually increasing.

Schultz’s ability as a receiver has really started to show the last two games. Against Philadelphia, he caught all three passes thrown his way and turned it into 37 yards – 12.33 yards per reception. Against Indianapolis this past week, Schultz was one of the very few bright spots in the offense’s zero-point performance; the tight end caught three of four passes that came his way for 23 yards.

Now, neither of these stat lines are particularly eye-popping, but they showcase a skill of Schultz’s that was thought to be his biggest weakness upon his being selected by the Cowboys. Initially, Schultz wasn’t given a heavy workload to start the season. This was both because he was a rookie and because he needed more time to develop his pass catching skills. The coaches have had to give him more snaps than they anticipated due to Swaim’s injury, but Schultz has responded in an impressive way. And this development in the receiving game isn’t his only strength.

Schultz has been impactful as a blocking tight end and has improved each week as well. Originally billed as an offensive lineman in a tight end’s body, Schultz struggled the first few weeks as he adjusted to the sheer strength of NFL defenses, but he’s come on strong in the last two months. Look no further than Schultz’s play against the Colts to see evidence of what he adds to the running game.

Again, Schultz was one of the very bright spots on the offensive side of things this past week. In these two examples, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was an offensive lineman making those blocks because they’re so solid and technically sound. His awareness to push on to the second level is making him an asset in the rushing attack.

Schultz may not be a skilled enough pass catcher to earn the term “safety blanket” yet, but the progress he’s made since being given a larger share of snaps has been promising. If this development continues, Schultz could blossom into a legitimate do-it-all tight end who can block in the running game and make catches to move the chains. I thought he might have this kind of development curve back in June.

And the fact that Schultz is starting to hit on that potential has to be a great sign for the Cowboys. Perhaps it’s not enough to say that the Cowboys are set at the position (which they aren’t), but at the very least they look to have a young tight end with a lot of versatility and a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys manage Schultz’s snaps if/when Swaim returns, but for now let’s just keep watching this rookie’s development.

The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of tight ends with limited experience in 2018. After the surprise retirements of Jason Witten and James Hanna (good gried, Charlie Brown!), two big holes emerged at the top of the depth chart for the position. With very little experience in the group behind them and no veteran signings since the point, Dallas seems comfortable letting the young players duel it out.

For now.

Joining Geoff Swaim (nine career receptions), Blake Jarwin (one game played) and Rico Gathers (no appearances) is former Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz. Schultz spent his time in a run-heavy offense for the Cardinal, a bit similar to the expected philosophy of a team that lost Witten and No. 1 wideout Dez Bryant this offseason. If the team is to rely on Ezekiel Elliott for everything, the blocking tight end must be special. Dallas spent a fourth-round pick thinking Schultz might be the guy.

Catching all 22 of his catchable targets in 2017, Schultz is a sure-handed, rarely utilized pass-catcher who could help move chains as a late-progression weapon.

Here’s a look at various scouting reports on Schultz.

A two-year starter at Stanford, Schultz lined up inline, wing and in the slot and was groomed in David Shaw’s pro-style offense – since Shaw took over as head coach, Stanford has produced four tight ends drafted in the first four rounds (Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper).

Before moving to tight end in high school, Schultz was raised as an offensive lineman and that competitive mentality is evident, but his limited inline power and hip snap hurt his sustain skills. Although he was underutilized as a pass-catcher in the Cardinal run-first attack (never finished better than fifth on the team in catches in a season), he has dependable ball skills to finish in a crowd.

In the mold of several Stanford tight ends before him, Schultz lacks a true distinguishing trait with ordinary athleticism and strength, but he is assignment sound, tough and can be an asset for a NFL offense.

One-Year Projection: He should contribute as a second/third tight end that cycles in as a receiver, and can be a consistent option in the passing game and on special teams. He was not asked to work a diverse route tree in the deep part of the field, but he projects well as a deep threat with the traits he showed in the pass game at other levels of the field.

Three-Year Projection: By year three Schultz should be a solid starter if he can improve his hand placement and timing, along with his body/hip positioning on pins/reach blocks. He doesn’t have noticeable physical limitations to his run blocking, just technical areas to refine. His athleticism and toughness should also allow for strong special team production.

SCHEME FIT

Schultz would fit best in a Gap or Inside Zone based run scheme where he would not need to consistently utilize reach blocks or work blocks using excessive lateral agility, as his hip and hand placement really suffered in these instances. In the pass game he fits best on a team that works him to all levels of the field to maximize his athletic ability and route running, but he did not show the mental processing to consistently work option routes and defeat zone coverage.

In this series, Cowboys Wire will be counting down the days until the regular season opener against the Carolina Panthers with a profile of the player whose jersey number matches the days remaining. On June 16, 86 days remain. Next up, No. 85 Noah Brown.

Dorance Armstrong Jersey

—Long-armed (34 ¾”) edge-rusher with impressive burst and agility on a frame (6’4″, 257

lbs) that can be built up.

—Raw athlete with the tools to be developed into a special edge-rusher. Smooth, twitchy

mover.

—Excellent burst out of his stance; can beat blockers with his length or his first step.

—Uses his hands well to create space or redirect blockers; has a great stiff arm.

—Shows a variety of pass-rush moves and doesn’t have to win with just speed. Likes to work

inside or spin off blockers.

—Light for a 4-3 defensive end and may have to play in space.

—Needs to continue adding size and strength.

—Only recorded 1.5 sacks in 2017.

—Combine and pro-day athletic testing did not match what we saw on him. His 40 time (4.87)

was disappointing.

—Lacks the power to set the edge in the run game.

Dorance Armstrong is a tough projection because his tape didn’t match his workouts, and his

production dropped in 2017. He requires a bit of imagination to see what he could develop

into, but that adds risk to his profile.

Jersey No. 74 should be short-lived for rookie defensive end Dorance Armstrong, as no

Cowboy has worn that number in the regular season since Hall of Famer Bob Lilly retired.

Don’t sleep on Armstrong for that reason, though, as he has a chance to develop and bring

a new infusion of talent into a right defensive end position group for Dallas that sorely

needs it.

The RDE spot has been a hole on the Cowboys roster ever since they released DeMarcus Ware

in 2014. They tried filling that hole in 2015 free agency with Greg Hardy and that blew up

in their faces. The Cowboys then drafted Randy Gregory in the second round that year. He

has missed most of his career with suspensions, although he is working to get reinstated

this season. Last year’s first-round pick Taco Charlton wasn’t able to grab the starting

job in his first year, which disappointed many fans. So the future of the position on the

Cowboys is still wide open for someone to snatch.

Now, no one should expect Armstrong to shoot to the top of the depth chart in his first

season. There’s an adjustment period for any rookie defensive end, let alone one that was

drafted in the fourth round. Being drafted in the fourth round doesn’t mean he lacks the

talent or upside to become a starter, though.

While the effort Armstrong showed on tape certainly fits the “right kind of guy” mantra

Jason Garrett strives for, his athletic and physical profile is what makes him a unique

talent for the Cowboys.

The combination of length and bendability is exactly the kind of pass-rush skill the

Cowboys have been missing opposite DeMarcus Lawrence.
While some fans might be worried about Armstrong’s 40-yard dash time, his former head

coach at Kansas David Beaty gave his explanation for why his combine time didn’t match the

tape.

“Well, Dorance has never weighed 260 pounds since he’s been here. He came in very, very

heavy. I’m not sure who exactly he was training with, but my way of dealing with him would

not be carrying that kind of weight. The guy we know, one of his biggest attributes is his

speed and quickness . . . Dorance never ran even remotely close to the (4.87) times he ran

for the scouts. He’s been a high 4.5 to mid 4.6 guy every day when he was at the right

weight: I think what they’re going to see is one of the most explosive guys develop in the

NFL when it comes to getting off that edge. They found them a pass rusher. They got them a

guy, no doubt.”

The Cowboys front office hopes it’s found itself a pass rusher as there are a lot of

question marks on the edge moving forward with Lawrence being a free agent next year, Taco

Charlton’s development uncertain, Gregory’s inability to stay in the league and Tyrone

Crawford’s contract making him a possible cap-casualty starting in 2019.

The Cowboys need more of these defensive end investments to hit, and Armstrong is hoping to

cash in for the Cowboys in a big way.

In this series, Cowboys Wire will be counting down the days until the regular season opener

against the Carolina Panthers with a profile of the player whose jersey number matches the

days remaining. On June 28, 74 days remain. Next up, No. 73 Joe Looney.

The Cowboys head into 2019 with two defensive ends who are worthy of starting. That is,

they will have two if they can get DeMarcus Lawrence re-signed. He and Randy Gregory make

up a talented pair of ends. The Cowboys also have Tyrone Crawford who has the versatility

to play on the end or move to the interior when needed. So in reality, that’s three guys.

Rod Marinelli likes to rotate his player so we’re looking for a fourth to join that party.

The two main candidates are Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. Will one of them emerge in

2019 to stake a claim?

The first-round pick in 2017 is starting to hear the “bust” label more and more. Through

two seasons in the league he only has four sacks. Three of those came in his rookie year

when he got hot down the stretch. That mini-hot streak led many to believe that 2018 would

be his break out year. That didn’t happen. Early in the year he was making some plays, but

not like you would expect from a first-round pick. Then he hurt his shoulder and eventually

was made inactive for a few weeks when the coaching staff wasn’t happy with his

attitude/effort.

Last year Charlton played in 11 games and was in on 39.2% of the snaps on defense for the

year. He had one sack, five TFLs and seven QB hits. (Snap counts from Football Outsiders).

Armstrong was a rookie in 2018 after being drafted in the fourth round. The Cowboys were

very excited to get him that late in the draft as they thought he would go earlier.

Armstrong played in 15 games last year but only managed to put up half a sack on the year.

He did manage to help out on special teams where he accumulated quite a few snaps.

Overall in those 15 games, he got half a sack, one TFL and three QB hits. He played on

26.7% of the defensive snaps.

The Dallas Cowboys have talent at the defensive end position — DeMarcus Lawrence emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive players in 2018, Tyrone Crawford is a solid veteran, and Kony Ealy is a former second-round pick that still has the talent to be a factor in a defensive line rotation. Taco Charlton was the 28th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft and began to show promise during the latter parts of last season. Oh, and there is a chance that Randy Gregory is eligible to play as soon as this September.

Even still, the Cowboys saw a player fall to them in the fourth-round that they could not pass up. A prospect that was once earning first-round hype after a huge breakout campaign in 2016 — Dorance Armstrong from the Kansas Jayhawks.

The Houston native and former North Shore High School star was tabbed as one of five potential steals in the 2018 NFL Draft by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples.

Let’s take a look on why the Cowboys wanted to add Armstrong to their defense.
Pass-rushing

The aspect of Dorance Armstrong’s game that gives him a chance to be a special player in the NFL is his ability to rush off of the edge and get to the quarterback. Playing defensive end in a 4-3 defense in 2016, Armstrong thrived and lived in opponents’ backfields each and every Saturday. The 2016 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year made 56 tackles, 20 tackles-for-loss, and got to the quarterback ten times during his sophomore season on the collegiate level.

This first clip shows Armstrong flying right past Tech Tech’s right tackle and forcing Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to rush his throw.

The replay shows Armstrong’s burst as soon as the ball is snapped. The right tackle has no chance, and Mahomes is taken down to the turf early in the game. Those hits definitely add up over the course of four quarters.

Later in the first quarter, Armstrong is lined up as a stand-up rusher. Armstrong’s speed immediately gives him an advantage and the offensive lineman has no chance to stop him from affecting the play.

Here’s another look at the sack. Armstrong’s versatility allowed Kansas to use his talents in a variety of different ways. Unlike the first play, Armstrong is not in a 3-point stance; instead, he is standing up and immediately starts his route to the quarterback. The talented pass rusher is able to get by the right tackle and get in Mahomes’ blind spot, resulting in Armstrong’s first of two sacks in the game.

If sacking one first-round quarterback isn’t enough for you, here’s Armstrong getting by Oklahoma’s right tackle and getting to 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and 2018’s number one overall draft pick Baker Mayfield. Nice spin move!

And this last clip shows how Armstrong can affect passing plays without getting all the way to the quarterback, as he deflects preseason 2018 Heisman Trophy contender Will Grier’s pass.

The Kansas star isn’t at his best in run support, but he is still capable of making some plays in that area. Here are a few examples of Armstrong defending the run.

In this first clip, Armstrong is lined up as the left defensive end in a 4-3 scheme for Kansas. Mayfield and Oklahoma are running opposite of Armstrong’s direction, but he used his speed and athleticism to track down the running back, Joe Mixon, behind the line of scrimmage.
Another look shows that OU does not block Armstrong on the read-option play, which forces him to make a decision on whether to stay home and force the quarterback to hand the ball or go immediately for the back and risk giving up a big gain on a QB keeper. Armstrong’s length and athleticism makes him a threat to tackle both the back and Mayfield — should he have kept it.In this next clip, Armstrong lines up at defensive end in the four-man front but immediately cuts inside. He reads where West Virginia running back Kennedy McKoy is going, and his quickness allows him to track the ball carrier down.Finally, Dorance Armstrong was known throughout his career for the Jayhawks as an elite pass rusher; but in this play below, Armstrong makes a huge splash play — creating a turnover in the red zone and recovering the fumble as well.

Another look at the play shows Armstrong stand the ball carrier up and immediately start grabbing for the football. After finally ripping the ball out, he finishes the play off by falling and recovering the fumble. Not only does he play the run well here, but he makes a play that can potentially change a game.

Dorance Armstrong was hyped up to be a potential first-round choice last offseason following a campaign in which he tormented offensive linemen each and every Saturday in 2016. But after a season which he played out of position and his production suffered because of it, the Cowboys were able to grab a potential pass-rushing gem on day three of the 2018 draft.

Armstrong is a freakish – but raw – athlete that possesses 34 3/4” arms to go along with his 6-foot-4 and 257 pound frame and a quick burst which makes him difficult for any offensive tackle to keep from getting into the backfield. While he is a little light for a 4-3 defensive end, Armstrong makes up for it with his quick first step and by using his hands to get by offensive tackles. As the only elite player on the Kansas roster, Armstrong was the focal point of scouting reports and often had to battle double-teams.

Dorance Armstrong has a high ceiling and the skill-set to flourish under Rod Marinelli in Dallas. The Cowboys found a franchise quarterback in the fourth-round of the 2016 draft; have they found a franchise pass rusher this time around?

Michael Gallup Jersey

ARLINGTON — That million dollar smile, as Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan calls it, was back on rookie receiver Michael Gallup’s face Thursday.

At least for a few hours.

Gallup flashed a wide smile as he walked toward the Cowboys’ locker room side by side with receiver Allen Hurns after their win over Washington.

It’s been an emotional week for Gallup, who learned just minutes after the Cowboys’ win Sunday in Atlanta that his brother Andrew had committed suicide on Saturday in Georgia.

Gallup didn’t travel back to Dallas with the team Sunday so that he could be there for his family. He told coach Jason Garrett on Monday night, however, that he wanted to play on Thanksgiving.

So Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sent his private plane Tuesday evening to Georgia to pick up Gallup. Late Tuesday, he met with receivers coach Sanjay Lal to get familiar with the game plan after missing the first two practices of the week.

Gallup, who didn’t speak to the media after the game, finished with two catches for 19 yards on six targets against the Redskins. But his final statistics didn’t matter.

That was evident after the game in an emotional scene in the Cowboys’ locker room. Garrett presented Gallup with the game ball and talked about his mental toughness. Gallup thanked his teammates for their support.

“I’m sure proud of these guys, and you would have been, too, if you had seen what they did with Michael Gallup in there,” Jones said. “They’ve given him a lot of support. I don’t want to get into the detail of it, but it was very meaningful. About as genuine, touching a moment as I’ve been a part of.”

Garrett also became emotional addressing the team after the win about Gallup, how important family is and how tough it is to deal with the loss of a loved one. He choked up mentioning how his father, Jim, could no longer spend Thanksgiving with him. Garrett’s father, a longtime Cowboys scout, died in February at 87.

“To go through the tragedy he did a couple of days ago and turn around and get back here, get ready for this game, it just shows the character of him,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “It shows the man he is. He battles adversity. I’m just so proud of him and proud of the way he handled this. I don’t wish this on anybody, obviously. He is playing for his brother, he is living for his brother. That’s what is most important.”

Gallup grew up in an unconventional family. He is one of eight siblings, but six are adopted. Gallup, who is from Atlanta, is the only domestic adoption. He has three siblings from West Africa and two from India.

Andrew, who was from Sierra Leone in West Africa was the closest in age to Gallup. Andrew was only a few months older than Gallup. Gallup, Andrew and his adopted sister, Lydia (from India), graduated together in the same class at Monroe Area (Ga.) High School.

Andrew’s funeral is Friday evening in Dahlonega, Ga. Jones will again offer his private plane to fly Gallup back for the service.

“We wanted to play for him,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “We’re a tribe, we’re a unit, we love one another. For a guy to be strong and endure what he did and still go out and compete at a high level just shows his true character. So I love him, and I got his back through everything.”

I expect Gallup to have a really nice year in 2019. He made some big plays last season and showed why the Cowboys took him in the 3rd round. He only caught 33 of 68 passes from Dak, which means their connection must get considerably better. A lot of y’all blame Dak for the incompletions, but there’s more to a route than what you see at the end. Sometimes, the timing gets thrown off by what happens at the beginning or the middle of the route. Amari Cooper will draw some double coverage this year, which means Gallup will have a chance.

I expect Gallup to have a really nice year in 2019. He made some big plays last season and showed why the Cowboys took him in the 3rd round. He only caught 33 of 68 passes from Dak, which means their connection must get considerably better. A lot of y’all blame Dak for the incompletions, but there’s more to a route than what you see at the end. Sometimes, the timing gets thrown off by what happens at the beginning or the middle of the route. Amari Cooper will draw some double coverage this year, which means Gallup will have a chance.

Iloka has nine interceptions in 99 games, including 79 starts. He’s a good, solid NFL veteran but he’s not the difference between getting to the Super Bowl or not. He signed a contract for the minimum with $200 thousand guaranteed. The Cowboys can part ways with him anytime they get ready for little of no cost.

Every team is different. The Rams run their salary cap differently than the Cowboys. Zeke might want a new deal this season, but I think he’s more inclined to get it after the season. The Cowboys will have plenty of cap space next year to get it done. They still have to get Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper done. Early next offseason, I think he’ll get done. If not, they’ll put the franchise tag on his because that number is only about $11 million, which is a lot cheaper than trying to franchise defensive ends or quarterbacks.

Dez had a terrific three-year run, when he was one the best players in the NFL. He was an unstoppable force paired with the perfect quarterback for his skill set. Tony Romo has a dynamic passer who knew how to maximize Bryant’s athleticism. Cooper is much more of a route technician. He can run virtually every route on the route tree and he has terrific hands. The variety of routes he runs and his ability to create separation works better with Dak, which is why they’ve had more success.

  1. He’s adopted

He told 9News.com that he was adopted by his mother, Jenny, when he was just 10 months old. She had two kids of her own at the time she adopted Michael. He was one of six additions to the family through adoption: two were were from India, three from Africa, plus Michael, he told the news station.

Michael told the AP that he was given up for adoption by his mom because she “wanted me to have a better life.” He also said he’s received letters from his birth mom but has never met her.

“That would be amazing to find her, talk to her,” he told the AP.

Lyell said that the mindset for Gallup was formed when his adopted father left home when he was 10 years old.

“Michael, the youngest of eight children, including six that, like him, were adopted, took it upon himself to become the man of the house,” Lyell said. “He made sure the lawn was mowed, helped his mother trim the trees with a pink chainsaw he picked out for her at Sears and took care of any other chores that required a lot of physical strength. He was a strong-willed kid, even then, determined to accomplish whatever he set out to do.”

We ran the triple option. Our other quarterbacks were running quarterbacks. I was the only one who had to throw the ball,” he said. “I had some catches every now and then, maybe two or three each game. But, I wasn’t mainly a wide receiver for a while.”

Playing QB is something he has in common with another Cowboys pick from the 2018 NFL draft: LB Leighton Vander Esch.

Connor Williams Jersey

BOCA RATON, Fla. — This is what it’s like to be bullied for being bigger than everyone else. You’re called a tub of goo. Fat boy. Stupid. Lazy. You’re ignored and shunned.

This was life for Texas All-American tackle and NFL prospect Connor Williams growing up.

As he recounts those memories, Williams runs his fingers through his jet black hair, still glistening from the sweat of a 90-minute workout while training for the upcoming NFL draft. He breathes deep and hesitates because this is where the conversation becomes intense.

“I never hurt myself,” he begins slowly, “and I never really heard about kids cutting themselves and things like that until about my senior year in high school. I didn’t even know it was out there. If I knew it was out there, I might have resorted to that. I can see how kids get to that point.”

Today, Williams, who is 20 years old, is a mere six years removed from staring in the mirror, mentally replaying the bullying and wondering if things would ever get better.

This 6’5”, 305-pound mountain of a man is in the best shape of his career. In the first two weeks here at XPE Sports, where college players train for the NFL combine, he lost 20 pounds and gained a layer of muscle.

He is in peak professional shape, and an NFL scout told Bleacher Report that Williams “has the highest ceiling of any lineman in the draft. … He has 15 years ahead of him and a body built for the game.”

A body built for the game. The irony of that statement is not lost on Williams.

“I was so self-conscious of my body. I was bigger than everyone and heavier than everyone,” Williams continues. “Not only was I being bullied, but I was internally bullying myself.”

How intense did that bullying become? he is asked. Did he ever think of taking his own life?

“No, never. Because once I got home to my family, I could lean on them,” Williams says.

What if you didn’t have that? he’s asked. “It would be a completely different story.”

There’s an uncomfortable silence, and then Williams says: “Now I think, what about kids who don’t have the family support I had growing up and are going through the same thing? I want to tell them it gets better. Don’t give up—it gets better.”

Nationally, suicide is the second-most likely cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age. Homicides are third.

Long before their three children were born, Jimmy and Debbie Williams agreed to one unshakable rule: If you hide the world from your kids, one day they’re going to hide their world from you.

So instead of fighting Connor’s battles, Jimmy and Debbie had to tactfully decide when to engage in what they felt was inappropriate bullying and when to let Connor handle the situation himself.

When he was nearly twice the size of kids his age in elementary school, it wasn’t easy intervening. Other parents wouldn’t understand.

When Connor was in fifth grade, when he had size 11 shoes and weighed 160 pounds, they allowed his brother, Dalton, who was in 12th grade, to take him to wrestling practice to release some aggression.

No one could pin him.

“You see it all the time. Kids are raised in artificial environments, and one day they have to live in the real world and the real world is different from the environment they’re raised in,” Jimmy Williams said. “I was big on just letting them handle their own stuff. We learn from adversity. If kids never suffer, they’re not going to learn much.”

So as the bullying took place, Jimmy and Debbie offered Connor support at home but tried their best to step in only as a last resort.

Invited to a sleepover by two schoolmates, Williams was picked on unmercifully until he called his parents to pick him up.

Ordered to leave the table in the cafeteria in middle school when the football players arrived, Williams ate alone in the library.

Made fun of by classmates for the way he talked, as he rolled his R’s when speaking his mother’s native Spanish, Williams eventually decided to say nothing at all.

The truth is, Connor doesn’t regret being bullied. It forced him to take a serious look at himself, his life and who he wanted to be. “It made me want to prove everyone wrong,” he says. But that doesn’t mean he had to like it.

He was the boy who had to choke down being the giant in elementary school. That’s because those purposely mocking him and calling him names knew if he were to fight back, he’d be sent to the principal.

Early on he fought back a number of times before the inevitable sunk in: He had to absorb all that bullying because there was no other option.

“I can remember sitting in the principal’s office and asking him, ‘How do I defend myself?’” Connor says. “He said, ‘It doesn’t matter. You can’t raise your hands to anyone.’ So I just had to take all that s–t day after day, year after year.”

“I wanted to go after every one of those kids,” Debbie says. The emotion is building and she turns quiet, reflecting on what her youngest son went through. “He was a boy, you know? Just a young boy trying to fit in.”

But she resisted.

When asked to name those who bullied him, Williams recoils. He doesn’t want to expose anyone.

It has nothing to do with putting things in the past, moving on or letting go. It has everything to do with protection.

Imagine that—the boy who was tormented and bullied for years is trying to protect the people who made his young life miserable. “Because the last thing I want to see is social media turning on those guys,” Williams says.

So he gave names but asked that they remain anonymous in the story. Two of three schoolmates contacted wanted to talk and didn’t mind having their names used. Another asked for anonymity.

All three learned of Connor’s story from a video piece two years ago on the Longhorn Network.

— Austin Michaelis, a schoolmate of Connor’s: “I do remember in elementary school, I was a captain on the football team and wasn’t mature enough to understand that I was leaving him out. If things he said were going on and I didn’t notice, that makes me just as bad or guilty even if I wasn’t the one who bullied him. It kind of really hit me when I saw his story. I just reached out to him on Twitter and said, ‘If that was me, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it.’”

— Jace Kennedy, another schoolmate: “I was the only one who would, I guess, play-fight with him. It got intense here and there. We got into it before a football game one time. I knew what got under his skin. He knew what got under mine. I guess I never really thought of it as bullying because Connor was just so much bigger than all of us and could have crushed us. I will tell you this: When Connor is drafted, I will be the first to buy his jersey and wear it proudly.”

— The schoolmate of Connor’s who chose to remain anonymous: “It was bullying. It was. It’s hard to say that now. It wasn’t just Connor; there were others who got it, too. I guess kids will be kids, but that’s really just an excuse. But yeah, Connor got a lot of it. It was wrong, and I feel horrible about it. I was watching his story on the Longhorn Network and thought, Man, we were assh–es, punks. I can’t imagine the courage it took for him to talk publicly about it. Hopefully one day I’ll have the courage to apologize to him.”

But it wasn’t just Connor’s schoolmates. Since Connor spoke publicly about his problems with bullies, his own siblings have had to reassess childhood interactions with him.

— His brother, Dalton, who is seven years older and set school records as the University of Akron quarterback in 2012: “I was probably hard on him, too. Maybe I contributed to it in some ways. I’m seven years older and he wants to hang out with me and my friends, and he’s just my little brother. So we’d kind of gave it to him. I remember those things happening, but as a kid, you’re not aware how much an impact it’s making on your brother. For him to have gone through that and be where he is today, it’s an unreal story.”

— His sister, Morgan, who is six years older: “I was not a huge help. It was not uncommon for Connor to be the butt of a joke. I feel bad being part of it, but that’s what siblings do. When I was in college, when he was starting to really go through hard times, that’s when I started being there for him and helping him. He went from this kid that everyone ragged on to someone who is doing everything right. He is such a good person now. I don’t think he fully understands what the metamorphosis looks like from the outside.”

They all talk about Connor’s ability to focus on what’s important, how once he makes a decision, it becomes all-consuming. Like losing weight. Or becoming an honors student. Or doing what many thought he shouldn’t have done this past season at Texas: return from a knee injury suffered against USC on Sept. 16 and play the season’s final three games instead of shutting it down and preparing for the NFL draft.

Late last year, in Connor’s first game back after his injury, Texas was playing at West Virginia, and Dalton, in the skybox as a WVU graduate assistant, looked down on the field during an early timeout.

“The Texas players were shuffling around. Everyone on both teams is waiting for the ready whistle—and there’s Connor at the line of scrimmage, in his position, standing and slowly rocking back and forth and looking straight ahead,” Dalton said. “I thought, Man, he’s ready. The whistle blows, Connor doesn’t move, bends, gets in his stance and is ready to roll. He was dominant in that game.”

Williams’ father says he’s seen that same fierce determination a few other times as well, most significantly the day Connor walked up to him and said he was sick and tired of being bullied.

He was 14 years old when he declared he had walked around the track at middle school for the last time while others were picked to play football. So his father put up two pullup bars in the garage, threw on the P90X workout series and began taking Connor on daily trips to the YMCA.

The weight came off, puberty kicked in, and life began to change in a matter of months.

“I never told him he had to work out or he had to get in shape or he had to change who he was. He had to come to that realization himself,” Jimmy says.

It didn’t take long for Williams to begin reshaping his body and changing the dynamic of his life. By his sophomore year, the boy who was tormented for much of his young life was Big Man On Campus. A year later, every major college program was offering him a scholarship to play football.

Four years after that, he’s on the verge of making millions playing a game bullies kept him from not so long ago.

When he was young, Williams would stare at the ceiling late at night and wish once, just once, he wouldn’t be standing there humiliated when the last pick was chosen for a football game. In late April, he’ll be in the green room at the NFL draft, surrounded by his family and friends. Jimmy and Debbie and Dalton and Morgan.

Connor’s uncle, Ray, will be there, too. He was a star quarterback in high school in Texas, a position of royalty if there ever was one. But he was paralyzed during his senior season and has never walked again. Now he’ll see his nephew walk on stage and shake hands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and join an elite group of men.

Suffering and persevering. Growing and learning.

This has been Williams’ life. And it’s only just beginning.

“I wouldn’t trade what happened to me for anything,” he says. “It made me who I am today.”

It also left him with a strong desire to help other kids deal with bullying.

“That’s why this story is so important,” he says. “It would be great if other young kids didn’t have to go through it.”

Leighton Vander Esch Jersey

It was the morning after the first round of the draft, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his son Stephen had just finished an emotional conversation with Jason Witten. The great tight end, a franchise cornerstone for 15 years, was done with football.

As Witten walked away, Jerry and Stephen looked out the windows of their offices at The Star, where the Cowboys work and train. The blades from a helicopter, a white Airbus H145 with a star on the tail, were casting shadows on the practice field as it descended.

Anticipation built around the facility. The team’s first-round draft pick was aboard.

As Leighton Vander Esch stepped off the helicopter into the Texas sun, the moment was not lost on Stephen Jones.

“There’s one 6’5″, light-haired, good-looking guy who loves to play walking out the door,” Jones says. “There’s another one walking in. It was a little eerie, if you will. When we interviewed Leighton, he exuded that kind of character that Jason has.”

The moment was not lost on Vander Esch, either. He was about 1,700 miles from his former home in Riggins, Idaho—and about a billion miles away culturally. He was moving from a place you can barely find on a map to the place where all NFL roads lead. He was stepping into a life of starring for America’s Team, sharing a locker room with Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott, playing in a stadium with high-kicking Cowgirls, artwork worthy of a museum and video boards that hang like magnificent clouds.

“A huge wake-up moment for me,” he says. “It was like, ‘This is my home?'”

And somehow, he’s not out of place here. Not even a little.

Somehow, he isn’t too far from home in a sprawling metropolis in the Southwest.

Somehow, the expectation of being the next great Cowboy hasn’t gotten to him, either.

Vander Esch is “destined to be one of the all-time greats,” according to Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman.

“You talk about a guy at 255 pounds, and he runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash,” Aikman said on the Thanksgiving national broadcast of Cowboys-Redskins. “He’s big, physical, and he can run, and he matches up against tight ends. I watched him last week match up against Atlanta, and the job he’s able to do, he’s an old-school linebacker in size and new school in his ability to cover and run.”

Vander Esch, a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, isn’t just killing it on the field. The player they call “The Wolf Hunter” is owning the moment, celebrating big plays with a howl.

If everything goes according to the Cowboys’ plan on Saturday, when they host the Seahawks in the wild-card round of the playoffs, howls will be echoing throughout AT&T Stadium.

The town Vander Esch called home, about three hours north of Boise, has a population of 419 people—well, 418 since the April draft. It would take everyone in town, times 239, to fill the stadium he now calls home.

They couldn’t get cellphone coverage in Riggins until Vander Esch was about nine years old. It’s still spotty. He was one of 11 kids in his graduating class from Salmon River High School, where he played eight-man football on a team that sometimes had no more than 12 on the roster.

He and his family—dad Darwin, mom Sandy and older sisters Shannon, Christon and Morgan—lived on about 300 acres in a canyon between two national forests, where the Little Salmon River flows into the Salmon River. From those rivers, Vander Esch reeled in many a meal and earned some spending money as a whitewater rafting guide.

Nearby Seven Devils Mountain was the place for hunting and snowmobiling, and the Vander Esch clan did a lot of both. Darwin owned Heaven’s Gate Outfitters in Riggins, and the kids learned to hunt at the same time as they were learning their ABCs.I

’m not a big fan of the whole “Plan B” thing.

I mean, you hear people all the time be like, “If what I really want to happen doesn’t work out, I guess I’ll go with Plan B.” And I get it. I really do. But sometimes, there’s no room for a Plan B, you know? Sometimes in life it’s just gotta be Plan A or bust.

Like: No alternatives. One path. Period.

That was definitely my mindset growing up (more on that in a bit), and — now that I think about it — that do-or-die, go-for-broke mentality is one this Cowboys team ended up adopting earlier in the season.

Flashback to about five weeks ago.

We’re sitting there at 3–5, coming off an ugly loss on Monday night to the Titans. It seems like maybe our shot at the playoffs is slipping away. Everything’s just … bad. We still believed in each other at that point, of course, but our record wasn’t what we needed it to be. There’s only so many games in a season. And halfway through, it was just not looking good for us. At all.

So we show up at the facility, and Coach Garrett sits us all down in the team room.

He doesn’t beat around the bush. He just puts it out there.

“There’s no margin for error now,” he tells us, with this fired-up look in his eye. “We got ourselves into this position. And now it’s up to us to get us out of it.”

Our season was on the line. Backs against the wall. The only option out there was to win the rest of our games.

That was it. There wasn’t an alternative route.

It wasn’t like we could somehow lose a few more games and just bank on the Redskins and Eagles losing some too.

No.

We’re 3–5. We need to go out and win all of our games now. That’s what he’s telling us.

And sitting there, in that meeting, you could tell guys were hearing him. There was just a certain vibe in that room, you know what I mean? Like guys were fully realizing that our season was at a critical point.

Then Coach spent a bunch of time talking from the heart about adversity, and fighting through, and how the only way to get beyond tough times is to put your head down and push forward. I guess sometimes that stuff can come off as corny or whatever, but that whole moment — the talk, the realness of it all, the whole do-or-die thing — it all just really resonated.

We totally bought in, each and every one of us. We were all just like, “He’s right. This is on us. We gotta to get through this and not have this bad start define our season.”

And, I don’t know, it’s almost like this team has been on a mission ever since.

Now, five weeks later, we’re 8–5. We’ll be going for our sixth straight win this coming weekend.

So, yeah….

Do or die. No alternatives. No Plan B’s.

Just go out and do what you need to do. Period.

And, man, I gotta say … this so fun right now.

Just flying around. Hitting people. Making plays.

I’m loving every minute of this, that’s for sure — just living in the moment, and having the time of my life. And this run we’ve been on has definitely made my rookie season in Dallas even more incredible than I could’ve ever imagined.

By now I guess a lot of football fans have heard my story: Small-town Idaho kid, no 11-on-11 football team in high school, too skinny to get any Division I offers, had to walk on at Boise … all that stuff. Cowboys fans are probably sick of hearing it at this point. And it does kind of get old after a while talking about those same things over and over again. (Hopefully, after a little time, my play on the field will speak for itself, and people will focus on that more than on how much I weighed in high school or how many people live in my hometown.)

Leighton Vander Esch’s family home rests on a flat patch of land carved into the side of a mountain. Seven Devils Road juts west off Highway 95 and marks the southern border to Riggins, Idaho, the town about three hours north of Boise where Vander Esch was raised. Before Leighton’s father, Darwin, used an industrial bulldozer to fashion a driveway into these hills, no lot existed. The address is their own creation.

In all, the property encompasses 300 acres. At the top of the mile-long road, up a treacherous incline, lies a small clearing that overlooks all of Riggins. Every sight from Vander Esch’s youth is visible from this perch. There’s the confluence of the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers, home to the area’s best fishing holes. There’s Shorts Bar, a small beach with impossibly fine sand where he’d take half-day rafting trips. In the distance, the mountain peaks that hosted hunting camps dominate the skyline. Riggins is nestled into a canyon between two national forests, and is hardly the sort of place known for producing premium NFL talent. When Carson Wentz entered the league two years ago, the Eagles quarterback was seen as a small-town boy stepping into the spotlight. Wentz’s hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota, has a population of 72,417. Riggins has a grand total of 406.

On Thursday night, Vander Esch is set to become a first-round pick in the NFL draft, capping a story as unlikely as any in this year’s class. With no starts to his credit by his third year at Boise State, he headed into the 2017 season as an unknown to NFL evaluators. Following a campaign that included 141 tackles, fifth in the FBS, he has risen up draft boards faster than any other player.

As an eight-man-football star at Salmon River High School, Leighton had no guarantee that his name would even make it to the coaching staff in Boise. But after he led the Savages to four combined state titles in two sports, tales of his greatness trickled out of the canyon and into the valley. He came to college as a curiosity, a piece of folklore that had descended down the mountain. He left as a revelation. After turning heads with an otherworldly performance at this year’s combine, the linebacker has become the subject of widespread scouting fascination, the prospect equivalent of Paul Bunyan.

As he prepares for the next step, he knows that people will question the veracity of his feats. For a kid from Riggins, Idaho, it’s nothing new. “That’s what it will always be,” Vander Esch says. “I had that small-school atmosphere at Boise. Everyone wants to doubt it. You never get away from it: Are you still going to be good enough?”

The sign outside River Rock Cafe, Vander Esch’s favorite breakfast spot, is one of the many tributes to him around town. “Go Leighton,” it reads on a cloudless morning in late March. “All the way to the NFL.” As Vander Esch folds his 6-foot-4 frame into a booth near the window, owner Kim Olson walks over to greet him. “I’m glad I didn’t miss you,” Olson says. “I had to leave yesterday, and I told the girls, ‘OK, I want a phone call if [Leighton] comes in. I want to know what’s happening.’”

When the cafe opened in 2007, Riggins was abuzz. This is a place where Main Street is the only street that runs through town, and any addition causes a significant stir. Rumors swirled last summer that a brand-new grocery store was replacing the pothole-filled parking lot in the middle of Riggins. A year later, Vander Esch still can’t believe that his town has Whitewater Market, its own miniature version of an Albertsons. “It’s the nicest store that we’ve ever, ever had,” he says, still with an air of disbelief.

Everyone knows everyone around here, has some bond connecting the threads of their lives. Olson’s son, Jake Manley, was a senior fullback at Salmon River High when Vander Esch was a freshman. By then, Savages head coach Charlie Shepherd Sr. had known Vander Esch for years. Growing up, Leighton was inseparable with Shepherd’s two boys, Charlie Jr. and Jimmy, and Leighton started filming varsity football games in the third grade. Shepherd had long imagined that the team would thrive once Vander Esch and his sons got to high school, so he slotted Leighton in as a starting outside linebacker as a shrimpy 140-pound freshman. There was no question about Vander Esch’s athletic ability; the concern was his tendency to run around blocks instead of barreling straight through them.

To indoctrinate the 5-foot-10 15-year-old to the rigors of varsity football, Shepherd pitted Vander Esch against Manley in every drill imaginable. With Leighton giving up three years and 40 pounds, practices turned into one-sided affairs. “He would just run me over, run me over, and run me over,” Vander Esch says.