From the start, La'el Collins knew he wanted to be a Cowboy

IRVING, Texas -- The courting of La'el Collins started Sunday with a late-night phone call from Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones. It ended late Wednesday night after dinner at Jones' mansion.

The contract was finalized Thursday, but Collins’ mind was made up at the dinner.

He heard Jones speak. He heard from Jason Garrett. Future teammates Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick spoke. Zack Martin and offensive line coach Frank Pollack were there as well. They spoke about their backgrounds. They spoke about their beliefs where the Cowboys are headed. They spoke about how Collins could fit in.

Collins spoke as well. So did his mother, Loyetta. They shared their backgrounds and their beliefs.

“The moment I was in Mr. Jones’ home I just felt something that was indescribable,” Collins said. “Just the way he sat down in front of my mom, my agent and the guys that were there. And the way that he just embraced us, I knew from that moment this is where I needed to be, this is where I wanted to be. I want to be a part of something special. What’s greater than being a Dallas Cowboy? What’s greater? I don’t know. I don’t know anything better.”

Viewed as a first-round pick before the draft, Collins was not selected, as his name was connected to an April 24 murder of an ex-girlfriend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Collins has been interviewed by the police and is not considered a suspect. Prior to the draft the Cowboys had a long review of Collins and revisited it after he was not drafted, doing more legwork into his background and the case.

Collins said every team had expressed interest, but the Cowboys were able to get the first -- and it turns out, only -- visit.

“I had to choose where I wanted to be,” Collins said. “I got to choose. And I think that’s the biggest blessing I have received. I got to choose the people I am going to work with. I got to choose the people that are going to help me become a better man in and out, on the field and off the field. And standing here today, sitting here today with my family and sitting here today with Mr. Jones, everybody, where else would I be? Where else do I want to be? Nowhere. I want to be here. I want be a Dallas Cowboy and I am a Dallas Cowboy.”

As Collins spoke Thursday, Jones became emotional. Coach Jason Garrett was riveted as well, his eyes rarely leaving his newest player. What he felt about Collins on Wednesday night was assured on Thursday afternoon.

“This situation is really different than anything we’ve ever seen before,” Garrett said. “The word that keeps coming back to me is inspirational. This kid is 21 years old. Did you guys hear what he just said to start this press conference? It’s remarkable. My hair stands on ends and you get chill bumps when you think about someone’s approach to this situation, someone who is so young and mature beyond his years, tough beyond his years. There’s a big sign back there outside our locker room that says, ‘The only thing that matters is what we do now.’ And we apply that to football a lot. You have success on a play, really all that matters is what you do on this next play. You have adversity, really all that matters is what you do on this next play. You can apply it to games, you can apply it to weeks, you can apply it to seasons, you can really apply it to anything. He and his family have truly applied it to a really, really challenging situation.

“These guys who aspire to be NFL football players, that’s all they think about since they’re this high. And to have the draft come up, put yourself in position to be a first round pick in the National Football League, and then have this thing come up, really prevents you from living that dream and having that opportunity. And then to handle it with such strength and faith and courage and poise, it’s pretty remarkable.”