Sure, Saturday’s matchup against the Colts is just another meaningless preseason game, the third of five the Cowboys will play in August. Fans will view it with obvious interest, excited to see how the team looks for the upcoming regular season while players understand that this is another opportunity to make an impression in their battle for a roster spot. But as we all know, the real games begin Sept. 10.
For some players, though, there is something more to this exhibition contest. There are a handful of those at training camp who grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and this game at AT&T Stadium will be the first time they’ll suit up as a Cowboy at home in front of friends and family.
“It’s going to be like a dream come true because I’m from the area,” said wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu, who has spent time in the Texans, Dolphins and Seahawks organizations before trying to catch on with his hometown team. “I’ve always been a fan of the Cowboys, and now I’m here wearing the jersey, running out on the field.”
Nwachukwu grew up in the northern Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas, where he won a 5A Division I state title with the Eagles in 2008. While he followed the Cowboys growing up, tuning in every Sunday, he never actually had the opportunity to attend a game. His first time seeing the Cowboys in person will be one in which he actually plays.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Nwachukwu said.
“I had the opportunity to play at AT&T Stadium a few times in college, and its an awesome atmosphere,” said rookie tight end Blake Jarwin, an Oklahoma State product. “But I’m excited to actually wear the Cowboys jersey.”
Originally from Tuttle, Okla., which is near Oklahoma City, Jarwin was a fan of the Cowboys as a youngster, saying “being so close (to Texas), it’s kind of our team in Oklahoma, so it’s going to be great.”
But even for those veterans who are in their first year with the Cowboys, suiting up at home is going to be a special occasion. Damontre’ Moore made his NFL debut with the Giants in 2013 and since then has also spent time with the Dolphins and Seahawks. He was signed by the Cowboy in the offseason to help shore up the defensive line.
Moore was born in nearby DeSoto, Texas, and played his high school ball in the eastern suburb of Rowlett.
“It’s like a welcome home party,” said Moore. “I’m going to be excited.”
“This will be my first time playing in AT&T Stadium since I’ve been in the league,” said seventh-year pro Byron Bell, who was also brought in during the offseason to compete for an offensive line position. “I remember growing up as a kid going to Texas Stadium a lot, so it’s kind of cool that I was there for the last stadium and now I get to play in the new one as a member of the Cowboys. It’s very special.”
Even looking back, players have fond memories of what it was like the first time they took the field at home while wearing the Star. Tight end James Hanna is from the suburb of Flower Mound, his rookie season coming in 2012.
“It’s really surreal the first time, especially because I went to a few Cowboys games when I was a little kid,” said Hanna. “Back when I was going, Deion Sanders was my favorite player.
“Not only are you wearing your Cowboys uniform, playing in Cowboys’ stadium, but then you’re also playing another NFL team. And you’re in the game. It’s crazy.”
“Growing up in Dallas, my whole family was Cowboys fans, so I grew up following the team,” said long snapper Zach Wood, also a Rowlett High School Eagle who lined up collegiately for SMU and went to training camp last season with the Cowboys. “Actually playing for them was a dream come true.”
Given that these players will be out there for the first time in front of so many family and friends, the assumption would be that there would be a few extra nerves involved. Most, however, said that’s not the case.
“In pregame, you might feel it,” said Hanna, “but once the game starts, you’re just playing football.”
“I probably won’t be (any more nervous),” said Nwachukwu. “I anticipate maybe a little bit, but not too much.”
“I think the biggest thing is just for everybody to focus on what they need to do,” said head coach Jason Garrett about combating whatever anxiousness might pop up. “When you’re a rookie and you get your uniform, they go into the stadium, they see their name up there. Helmet, jersey, it’s like, Wow, a couple of years ago I was playing college football or high school football. I never dreamed about this.
“But when it comes down to it, they have to somehow, some way, forget all that, put a bubble around themselves, and lock in on what they need to do.”
For their part, the coaches will address the situation and what the atmosphere will be like, but it falls on the individual player to do what he’s been trained to do – play football.
“At the end of the day, its just another game, another opportunity to go out there and prove myself,” said Moore. “I’m really ready to go out there and show what I’m made of.”
“I just know what’s at stake for me personally,” said Bell, a native of Greenville, Texas. “My personal goal is making this team, No. 1, so that I can play the whole season in that stadium and make my family proud.”
“The coaches do a great job of teaching us,” said Jarwin. “I’m just going to go out there and do what they told me to do.”
Still, this is a celebration for loved ones. They’ve gone through the journey, driven to practices, sat through rainy games. To see their son or brother or cousin or friend now stepping onto an NFL field – for the hometown team, no less – is an overwhelming feeling. There’s no way they’re going to miss the game.
“I think, as of right now, I’m at a count of 10 people at least who are supposed to be there if not more than that,” said Moore.
“I’ve got a lot of family coming, a lot of friends,” said Nwachukwu. “I’ve got a bunch of people coming.”
“I might have the whole city of Greenville out there, that’s my plan,” said Bell. “My goal is if I’m blessed enough to make the team, Week One I want to do something special for the city, and I want to have my whole town out there. That would be huge.”
Now, there’s just the tricky matter of finding enough tickets.
“We’re getting it all figured out,” said Jarwin. “It should be quite the get-together.”
“They have to get their own,” said Wood with a laugh. “I can’t afford all those tickets.”
“We’re working on it,” Nwachukwu responded when asked about finding seats. “We’re working on it right now.”
Regardless, they’ll be there. No doubt. It’s Saturday night against the Colts, yet another meaningless preseason game … for some. For others, this is will be a special occasion, the fulfillment of a dream, suiting up for the first time at home for the hometown team. Read