Randy Gregory’s life has the makings of a feel-good Lifetime movie at this point.
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Gregory in the second round in 2015 and handed him the coveted No. 94 jersey so he could follow in the pass-rushing footsteps of Charles Haley and DeMarcus Ware.
Gregory was subsequently suspended four times and his NFL career was left for dead because he couldn’t stop smoking marijuana.
He was forced to work in an Amazon warehouse making $15.50 an hour to manage his household with a wife and two children while trying to get his life and career back.
His substance abuse issues were linked to mental health problems dating to his childhood, including low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
It’s remarkable to some that Gregory is even back in the NFL.
And it seems even more remarkable that he was recently named to the Cowboys’ 14-player leadership council for this season.
Even to him.
“I wasn’t really expecting that,” Gregory said. “I think it says a lot about my journey as far as my growth. I think five years ago this would never even be a conversation.”
‘Huge leap’ in comeback story
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones always believed in him and never wavered.
But coach Mike McCarthy was not here when he was drafted and didn’t know him.
And his first experience with Gregory after he was reinstated by the NFL last year included a disagreement over playing time with then-defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
“We all know his history. I didn’t know Randy at all,” McCarthy said. “There’s input into that decision on who is on that council throughout the whole building. I think it’s just a reflection of how we feel about Randy Gregory.
“It’s a huge statement. We all have history. So you have a starting point and based on our starting point to where he is today, he’s made a huge leap.”
From drug abuser and a guy you can’t count on because of his litany of suspensions to a locker room leader.
This could be the dramatic end of the tear-jerker movie.
With Jamie Foxx playing Gregory, it would be Oscar worthy.
But as Gregory and McCarthy quickly noted, this is just the beginning. This not the time for credits or the curtain call.
“He’s a hell of a football player. Always has been,” McCarthy said. “And what he’s accomplished to get back to this point is a real credit to him. But still he has a lot left. The sky’s the limit for Randy Gregory.”
Tackling the mental game
Gregory’s talent has never been questioned.
The speed and pass rushing ability never left even with all the stops and starts to his career.
His body has only matured with his age; at 258 pounds, he has the strength to bull rush and hold up against the run.
But for Gregory, it’s not just physical, it’s also mental.
“It’s a big part of it. I think it starts with that,” Gregory said. “I think you have to be comfortable with yourself, confident in yourself. There were times in the past I was a very anxious individual. I was a guy that had low self esteem and I didn’t do very well in situations like this or situations like where I had to bring out my leadership skills and really be confident in myself.
“Like I said being confident on the field and off the field, it kind of goes hand in hand. When I’m doing well on one hand, I think I’ll do well in the other.”
He is definitely doing well on the practice field and has been one of the stars of training camp.
New coordinator Dan Quinn, who himself questioned McCarthy about why Gregory didn’t play more last season, sees him as a key to the team’s pass rush in 2021.
“I’d say he’s got a rare ability to bend,” Quinn said. “He’s got initial quickness. But I think it’s his ability to stick his foot in the ground and bend that makes him so unique. When it’s time to twist and he can bend and get outside or inside on a play. He’s got unique stuff and I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
He has even won some battles with Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith after being shut out in the past.
“He used to beat up on me when I was younger,” Gregory said. “It’s a battle now and it’s fun.”
‘There is a lot for me to do’
This where Gregory appreciates what he has accomplished in his journey but acknowledges he has miles left to go.
He still has just 10.5 career sacks, after a respectable 3.5 in spot duty in 10 games last season. And has no contract for next season.
“Look, I still have a lot to prove,” Gregory said. “There is a lot of talk going around right now. I really believe I am having a good offseason. But there is still a lot to prove on the field. I still feel like I haven’t truly arrived. There is a lot for me to do.
“With that said, I still want to give myself a pat on the back. I really feel I deserve it. I have worked hard to get to this point. From this point on, I have to put some good play on the field and stay out of trouble which I am trying to do. Be the guy every one expects me to be and I expect myself to be.”
Now, let the tears flow.