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‘I never gave up’: Cowboys DE Randy Gregory is grateful, proud of latest return to NFL

Gregory feels good about himself, a claim that has too often eluded the Cowboys defensive end.

Randy Gregory is back doing what he considers the most natural thing on the planet.

He feels good about himself, a claim that has too often eluded the Cowboys defensive end.

Gregory doesn’t take his mental health and sobriety for granted. He knows that journey is never done. But that doesn’t mean he can’t stop for a second to take pride in what he’s accomplished in his latest return to the NFL.

“I would say just the fact I never gave up,” Gregory told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “I had times where I doubted myself. I’ve had times where I wondered what life would be like without football.

“But the biggest thing for me, the biggest thing I’m proud of is I never gave up. At the end of the day, I believe this is the place I need to be, around the people that are here.”

Having served four suspensions since entering the league in 2015 as the team’s second-round pick, Gregory has been banned from more games (52) than he’s played (35) in his Cowboys career. He was suspended for 30 of 32 games in one troubling stretch.

There are no guarantees this opportunity won’t end like the others. But Gregory feels better equipped to handle the pressures that go with being a professional athlete this time around.

“It’s a day-to-day thing,” Gregory said. “It’s something I’m constantly working on and trying to better myself not only for the sake of my career but my personal life, for my family. So [it’s] something I have under wraps right now. Very proud of myself, proud of the individuals who helped me get here, and I just take it one day at a time.’'

The list of individuals who have helped is long. Too many to single out. But Gregory’s parents moved to the area. The Jones family has been with him every step along the way.

More on that later.

And Gregory readily mentions Dr. Dina Hijazi, the Dallas-based psychologist he meets with multiple times a week.

“I appreciate everything that led up to me coming back, and obviously I do appreciate me being here,” Gregory said. “I’ve said in the past football’s probably the most natural thing there is on this planet for me. I love the game. There’s been times where I haven’t loved what it meant to be a professional in the NFL, but I do love the game and everything else that comes with it is just part of being a professional.”

Now, there are issues and responsibilities that go with being an athlete in college and the professional level that Gregory doesn’t like, that he’s struggled to handle. He tested positive for marijuana in February 2015 at the NFL scouting combine and entered the league in the first stage of its substance abuse program. He tested positive for marijuana twice at Nebraska.

Gregory has spoken before about how he’s used marijuana to cope. But what were the root issues? Multiple sources have said he’s been misdiagnosed along the way. Gregory has told USA Today he has sought treatment for social anxiety disorder.

Dr. Hijazi’s bio states her clinical expertise is in the holistic treatment of intimacy disorders, anxiety, depression, addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders. She helps him handle situations or thoughts that have been triggers. “I think everyone deals with triggers,” Gregory said. “Everyone reacts certain ways, and that’s the same for me. All I can say is I’ve gotten better about it.

“There are going to be triggers in the future, and I’m going to take the right step for it, take care of them and hopefully I won’t make some of the same mistakes that I’ve made in the past.”

Gregory was allowed to return to the field for the Cowboys game against Washington on Oct. 25. Less than five weeks later, he had two sacks against Washington on Thanksgiving, the game he considers the highlight of his return.

The defensive end enters Sunday’s game with two sacks and 12 quarterback pressures, a total that ranks fourth on the team.

“I think overall, I’ve had a pretty solid comeback,” Gregory said. “Obviously it came midway through the season, so I’m still even at this point kind of getting my feet under me. But I’m just continuing to get better in practice and hopefully putting that out on the field on game day.”

Gregory first began to talk about playing in the NFL at the age of 8 or 9. He was a running back then. His father told him he would need to be a defensive end. Memories like that have given Gregory the drive to persist through his setbacks.

“I knew I had more to offer as a player and that I couldn’t really live with myself knowing I missed out on an opportunity I’ve been working for 15, 20 years now to this point,” Gregory said. “I’ve invested so much time physically, mentally, emotionally to the sport that I’m just not ready to give up yet.”

He’s very appreciative of what the Cowboys owner has done for him.

“Jerry, Mr. Jones, the whole Jones family, they know how much they mean to me,” Gregory said. “I think at this point, I understand how much I mean to them.

“One of the things I appreciate the most about the Jones family is that they’ve been able to take away the business aspect of it and really focus on me as an individual, as a person. … Seeing them stick by my side and help in any way they could, when they could, just stick this thing out with me, has been real big.

“I can’t say enough about them.”

Gregory has fought for another chance. He feels good.

He’ll continue to work.

“I’m very grateful, happy to be back here doing the things I love, being around the teammates and coaching staff I have,” Gregory said. “My parents and family being able to go to the games and watch me play and just you know, kind of rebuilding my reputation or whatever it is now.

“I’m just real grateful. I really am. It’s honestly an honor to be on this team and still be valued in this league.”

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