In the weeks leading up the seventh annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 20 at the Rose Bowl Stadium, we will profile 10 draft-eligible players who have committed to play in the prestigious all-star game. Today’s feature is on Wyoming defensive back Rico Gafford.
With most cornerbacks, having a reputation can either be extremely good or extremely bad. After all, these coverage men are usually only mentioned when they are famous as a shutdown corner … or they have been routinely burned. But after transferring from community college, Rico Gafford didn’t have time to build up a slow-burning reputation, nor could he afford to be known as someone who gets routinely beat. So Gafford did the only thing that allowed him to succeed at every level of football he’s competed: make big plays.
When Gafford joined Wyoming as a junior, most fans weren’t sure of what to expect from him. Within a few games, it was readily clear that they had a very talented and willing football player on their hands. His first game was an absolute nail-biter, featuring three overtimes against Northern Illinois in a game where he had eight total tackles. Two weeks later against UC Davis, Gafford registered his first interception, and returned it 32 yards.
After that, teams began to generally avoid his area of the field, until Boise State tried its hand. The previous three drives had gone for touchdowns, so why not keep throwing it? Well, with Gafford in the area, he snagged the errant pass and took it 32 yards, setting up the touchdown that sparked Wyoming’s comeback victory.
Gafford has never been the biggest nor the strongest defender on the field, but his willingness to make a stop in the run game was very much appreciated and allowed greater flexibility in what the defense could do. Even so, Gafford knew that he had to take advantage of his final year of college eligibility… and boy, did he.
The Iowa native started off the season by recording an interception against the Iowa Hawkeyes, and then recording three tackles and a pass defensed the following week against Gardner-Webb. He then snagged an interception against Oregon, and then two weeks later, he registered eight total tackles against Hawaii.
Another pick came against Texas State, returning this one 37 yards to the house. But it was against Utah State that Gafford put together his finest performance as a cornerback. In that game, he picked off the Aggies during their second drive of the second half, keeping the score deadlocked at 16. The Cowboys would eventually win 28-23, and Gafford finished with two other passes defensed.
He rounded out his senior campaign with an impressive showing against Central Michigan, helping to harass the opponent into four interceptions as Wyoming cruised to a 37-14 victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He may have only gotten two years to do it, but Gafford built up quite a positive reputation for himself to take to the next level.