College hoops star turned NFL hopeful last played football at age 13 – New York Post

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Antonio Gates played high school football. Jimmy Graham played a year of college football. Rico Gathers is trying to one-up the two All-Pro tight ends — the two trendsetters who went from college basketball stars to NFL tight ends — by breaking into the league despite his last season on the gridiron coming nine years ago at the age of 13.

“Football was the first sport I ever played, first sport I ever loved,” the former Baylor basketball star from Louisiana said in a phone interview. “When I was 13, I cut it short because I blossomed as a basketball player. I always knew I could come back and be a dominant football player.

“At the end of the day, the game doesn’t change. Only thing that changes is the tempo.”

Gathers — who was fourth in the nation in rebounding as a junior and a four-year contributor at Baylor — may lack experience, but he has a never-ending supply of confidence he can play on Sundays. After putting on an impressive display during his pro day on Monday, the 6-foot-6, 273-pound specimen could wind up as a late-round selection in this week’s NFL draft.

Gathers trains with ex-NFL QB Matt Flynn.Photo: Mike Triplett/ESPN

Gathers initially considered returning to Baylor for a year to play for coach Art Briles, as Graham did at Miami, but opted to go pro instead. He placed a call to former Baylor football star Vann McElroy, an agent for Select Sports Group. McElroy brought Gathers to Traction Sports Performance in Baton Rouge, La., which specialized in working with NFL and college football players, three weeks ago.

“He was 283 pounds and built like an action figure,” trainer Mack Chuilli said. “He tested out at 11 percent body fat. We’ve never had a guy with body fat that low at that size.”

At Traction Sports, he caught passes from NFL free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn. Former safety and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark worked with him on technique, and tight ends coach Art Valero helped him with route-running and other skills, preparing him for his pro day on Monday at the Saints’ practice facility in front of 24 NFL scouts.

Gathers put on an impressive display. He was clocked at 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which would have placed him seventh among tight ends at the NFL combine in February. He had a 9-foot-7 broad jump and a short shuttle of 4.56 seconds.

“If you compare his numbers to tight ends at the combine, he was top 10,” Chuilli said. “The only difference is he’s 3 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than most of those guys.”

Clark initially was skeptical. How could someone who hasn’t played football since middle school think he can make it in the NFL? But then he started working with Gathers, saw his desire and determination, saw how quickly he picked up things. That, Clark said, can take him a long way. Gathers’ biggest challenge was getting in and out of routes, changing directions. Otherwise, he was a quick study. He showed the willingness to learn and the soft hands needed to be an NFL tight end.

“He’s as good as a lot of guys I’ve seen drafted,” Clark said. “To watch him progress to this point shows me how good of an athlete he is.”

Gathers was a star football player in middle school, winning a Parish title in eighth grade for East St. John Elementary. He played all over the field then, as a wide receiver, tight end, punt returner, quarterback and defensive end. He scored 17 touchdowns and had more than 10 sacks, recalled coach Mark Creecy.

“He was [always] the best player on the field,” the coach said, and his team included several players who would go on to play Division I football.

McElroy said he believes Gathers will get picked on the third day of the draft, as high as the fifth round or as low as the seventh. Ten teams have met with him individually.

“They’re all saying the same thing: A guy like that has to get drafted,” McElroy said. “The [odds] of him being a Pro Bowler in three years and your normal sixth/seventh rounder being a Pro Bowler is much greater with a guy like Rico.”

Gathers has so much to learn, about blocking schemes and how to beat a zone, but he said that only will force him to work hardergive him more ammunition.

“I’m coming in with something to prove right away,” he said. I’m too confident — too, too confident.“At the end of the day, whether I get drafted or I go undrafted, I’m going to work my tail off to establish myself.”