Life looks a little different for Luke Gifford these days. The former Nebraska linebacker has been back in Lincoln since January, but he didn’t expect to be home this long. He figured he’d be back to Dallas at some point, or at least have a plan on when he would be.
Gifford signed a free agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. Despite suffering a couple of injuries during the 2019 season, the Cowboys protected his player rights by keeping him on the regular season roster after his first injury. He appeared in six games over the season before Dallas placed him on the injured reserve list on Dec. 17 after his second injury.
Since then, Gifford has been working hard to get back. He’s spent time working out with former Nebraska assistant track coach Chris Slatt, alongside a number of other former Huskers. While that’s provided some sense of normalcy for Gifford, it’s still tough not knowing when he might get back to Dallas. Everything from organized team activities (OTAs) to mini camps are on hold.
“I think the hardest part has been just the fact that you really don't know when it's going to end and when we'll start up,” Gifford told Hail Varsity. “It's really hard to come up with a plan that allows you to peak at the right time so that you're feeling your best when you're going back and getting ready to start. I think that's the hardest part.”
Gifford is prepared to start virtual meetings with the Cowboys soon. He’ll also be adjusting to another new head coach—Dallas hired Mike McCarthy over the offseason—but he’s had experience with new staffs and systems. He experienced it multiple times at Nebraska.
“I think I'm just like, ‘That just follows me everywhere I go,’” Gifford said. “That's definitely, it's been hard. I think we'll start doing some stuff here pretty soon to try and start learning the playbook and everything but yes, I think you just got to lean on the veterans and I bounce stuff off them all the time. They're really good to me, so that's been nice. They've been a big help.
“It's just one of those things. Everybody is kind of going through the same thing right now because we are, kind of, it's just a clean slate. No one really knows too much about what's going on.”
Gifford isn’t the only one with uncertainty about the future and what to expect. His brother, Isaac, is a freshman defensive back at Nebraska now. He chose to walk on for the spring semester, enrolling early before being placed on scholarship this fall. That first semester was then cut short before Isaac could really experience spring football practices.
The good news for Isaac is that Luke can still help a bit with Nebraska’s playbook. He can offer advice too, like making sure Isaac is reaching out to teammates and to others for help when needed. Plus, the two are able to work out together.
“We've done some good workouts and it's been fun to hang out with him. I know it's been hard to him,” Luke said. “I think he was excited about everything going on, getting that head start, but at the end of the day he still got the opportunity to be around and learn the ropes. I think he can still get a lot of good out of the stuff that he got to experience already.”
And for now, the brothers have each other and a full house. For the first time in six years, the Giffords’ house is at capacity. All four of the Gifford kids are home, which Luke called “interesting.” It’s the first time the whole family has been together like this in a long time though, so they’re enjoying it as much as they can. Even if they drive each other a little crazy.
“The first couple of weeks were really fun and I think everybody's getting sick of each other now,” Gifford said. “I think this could possibly be the last time that we're all in the house for an extended period of time like this, so we're trying to take advantage of it.”
The future is uncertain—for both Luke and Isaac—but they’re making the best of it. In Luke’s case, he’s taking it one day at a time. He had plans for this time, but things change. It’s how he responds to this change that matters most right now, especially when he reflects on why it’s happening.
“It's been frustrating, honestly, especially just as my season was pretty up and down with injuries and stuff like that and I felt like I was finally getting to a point where I was ready to contribute again.
“But at the end of the day, there's a lot more important things going on in our world than playing football. I know eventually I'll get my opportunity to do what I want to do and show what I can do. Right now, I just got to wait it out and do what I can at home.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.