Luke Gifford spent much of the early part of Saturday going back and forth between the living room watch party at his family lakehouse with family and friends and a private room to take phone calls. His phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. Teams kept calling to talk with the former Husker linebacker about their plan for him.
Heading into the day, he was told to be ready for a late-round call or an immediate priority free agent deal after the 2019 NFL Draft ended.
He’s now a Dallas Cowboy.
Gifford joined Hail Varsity Radio on Monday to talk about how that came to be, about his new role with Dallas and the benefits he got from playing for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, outside backer coach Jovan Dewitt, inside backer coach Barrett Rudd and strength coach Zach Duval for his senior season.
You can hear the full interview here, starting at the 59:20 mark. The following is edited for length.
HV: Take me through your draft experience and how you dealt with this opportunity in Dallas but also I would assume some disappointment in not being drafted?
LG: It was a pretty crazy day on Saturday. Saturday morning before the draft I had quite a few teams calling me and telling me what their plan was. A lot of them said late round to be ready and if not, free agency. I had been talking to quite a few teams and then throughout the day, around the fifth, sixth round, my phone started lighting up.
It’s different because the linebacker coaches are texting me the whole time and telling you how much they want to have you there and they’re trying to get your drafted but it’s kind of all over the place. You just never know what will happen. It was stressful and I was disappointed I didn’t get drafted, but I was really happy I ended up in Dallas and I’m excited for what’s to come there.
HV: Was Dallas one of those teams you thought you might go to?
LG: Yeah, they were. I had been talking to them for the last couple weeks and they had told me they probably weren’t going to draft a linebacker so I knew if I did go there it would probably be in free agency. So I was kind of just waiting and trying to figure out what was going to happen, but I knew that if I didn’t get drafted, Dallas was where I wanted to end up. There’s definitely good things about getting drafted, but there are also good things about free agency.
I tried to look at it in a positive light and I’m happy with the way it ended up.
HV: Did it come down to Dallas and other teams or did Dallas make the most sense all the way?
LG: Dallas kind of laid out what they had planned for me [by] about the fifth or sixth round and I talked to my agent, with the way the roster is set up, the money they’re offering and everything else, it was pretty tough for us to pass that up.
You can’t come to a deal during the draft but we kind of knew what we wanted to do from there on out if we didn’t get drafted. There were a lot of teams right after the draft and in the sixth, seventh rounds that were calling me trying to get stuff set up, but we kind of had our minds made up on what we wanted to do. It was too hard to pass up.
HV: How did you manage the stress?
LG: It was really stressful. I actually had a bunch of people over at our lake house in Ashland. My family was there, the Foster family was there and then we had a bunch of friends so we were watching it and I kept getting calls and I had to leave every two minutes and finally for the last two rounds I just went and sat in the bedroom and watched it on the tv and talked to my agent the whole time. I couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t keep going back and forth, so it was hard. You sit there and you watch guys get taken that you scratch your head about, but it is what it is. I’m glad the way it ended up. It was fun overall, but it was definitely stressful.
HV: How did Dallas sell itself to you?
LG: They think I fit their SAM backer role really well, big, long guy who can cover and do a little bit of blitzing and also play in space, too. It’s kind of what my role’s been throughout my time here at Nebraska. And then they also want me to learn some MIKE, so I’ll be playing some SAM and MIKE.
And then, obviously, special teams will be a big deal. I think if I go in there and make a big impact on special teams, that’s where I’ll really add my value. If I can get to a point where I can make an impact at SAM and start learning the MIKE and be able to back that spot up, too, that would be big.
That’s where they feel I can help the team at and make the team at and I’m excited for the opportunity.
HV: Have you had a chance to talk with any of the Nebraska coaches?
LG: I talked to them mainly before the draft. Just told them thank you. Coach Chins reached out to me. I talked to Coach Dewitt. Those guys have been a huge help in the process. Coach Ruud reached out to me before the draft, just offering some insight on some teams and where would be some good places to go. They were huge in that part and I’m just so thankful for them and the time I got to spend with them in the last year.
HV: How did you spend your time with Jerald Foster?
LG: It was really nice having each other around. He was actually playing dominos the whole day. I couldn’t take it, I was pacing back and forth talking on the phone the whole day but he was pretty nonchalant. It’s really nice to have him around and then to have that experience together. Growing up and going to high school together and playing college football together and then getting to go to the next level at the same time, it’s pretty unique and it’s not something best friends get to do very often. We tried to soak it up. We were pretty excited for each other when we made it official. It’s been a really fun process and the last few years have been great so we’re looking forward to new teams and being in the same division. I’m excited to be lined up across from him for once.
HV: What’s your timeline look like now?
LG: I leave for Dallas and rookie minicamp next Thursday. So we’ll have rookie minicamp next weekend and then from there we’ll go to OTAs and all that. I’m not exactly sure how they do their OTAs — some teams spread the practices out a little bit — but I’m sure I’ll be there for quite a while and then hopefully get a little break or a week or two before camp starts in July.
HV: In what ways did Coach Dewitt, Coach Duval and Coach Ruud help you this senior season?
LG: I think Coach Duval was one of the big ones. I’ve never felt as strong as I did this year. That was huge, especially playing the position I did — it was almost more like a d-end this past year — so I had to be big and strong and physical and Coach Duval played a huge role in that.
And Coach Dewitt was also really big because I didn’t get the time in spring ball to work out some of those kinks and reps, so I spent a lot of time with him and going over stuff. He’s just someone who’s so smart, he can teach it in lots of different ways. It was really helpful for me. I had been around for so long that I even remember some of Coach Bo [Pelini]’s stuff and Coach Dewitt was even familiar with some of that from Carl Pelini down at FAU. He would put it into terms that I understood so that helped a lot. I’m really grateful for him.
Coach Rudd I didn’t get to spend as much time with because he’s more with the inside backers but just having him around and his presence was really fun. He’s someone that I looked up to since I was a little kid, so just to have him around and have him as someone to spend time with and go to, it was awesome.
[Coach Dewitt] was pretty familiar with the defense that we had ran and been in so a lot of times he would think of the verbiage or the vocabulary that Coach Bo would have said it, the way Coach Bo would have said it or taught it, that’s just how smart he is. And I didn’t remember everything — obviously, that was a tough defense and I was young — but there was a lot that I could remember, and he was really helpful in that way. He broke it down so I understood it well and it was easy to take and carry over to the field.
HV: You had a chip on your shoulder going into the draft, do you have that same chip now because you were undrafted?
LG: Yup. Even bigger. I wouldn’t want it any other way.