By Rory Sharrock
Every child who has ever put on a helmet and shoulder pads has pictured himself walking through the tunnel and onto the field as an NFL player.
In the case of former Lovejoy and Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice, he's his own visual proof of a dream fulfilled after being selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 122nd pick in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft last month.
"I was just ecstatic. My whole family was happy and it was a good feeling. We got that part over with, now it's back to the drawing board of just playing football," Choice said.
Choice joins a loaded roster that featured 11 Pro Bowl players and the best record in the NFC at 13-3.
He is now the final piece of Dallas' three-headed monster in the backfield that includes Marion Barber and first-round pick Felix Jones from Arkansas.
After celebrating his joyous phone call from team owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones, Choice kissed his family goodbye and headed for rookie minicamp at the team's facilities in Valley Ranch, Tx. During minicamp, he went through a variety of drills and practice sessions under head coach Wade Phillips, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and running backs coach Skip Peete.
"Minicamp was cool. It was all the rookies and free-agent draft picks. We practiced hard and we're trying to learn the playbook as quickly as possible because we're behind already. His (Garrett) offense is not that complex because he worked under Chan Gailey. They kind of run the same offense and schemes, so it's kind of easy for me to pick up," he said.
While playing through minicamp, Choice and his fellow rookie classmates were treated to a delightful surprise as NFL all-time leading rusher and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith stopped by to give the players feedback along with some positive words of encouragement.
This was an early Christmas gift for Choice who grew up idolizing Smith and wore No. 22 in college to honor his favorite player.
"I used to like the Cowboys when they won all the time. They were one of my favorite teams growing up. The Cowboys are one of the most watched teams in any sport, so it's going to be real cool here," he said.
Choice's road to Dallas took him down a path from Clayton County, to Norman, Okla. for a brief stint with the Oklahoma Sooners and back to Atlanta where he left several defenders gasping for air while running for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
As a senior at Lovejoy, he was named First Team All-State, rushed for over 1,200 yards, totaled 600 yards receiving and combined for 17 touchdowns.
"He's an outstanding young man, not too mention a great football player," said Lovejoy football head coach Al Hughes. "We're excited for Tashard. For us to have had the opportunity to share in his experiences was a great thing. He is one of many great football players we've had come through here. He's on America's Team now and we're excited about his future."
After playing at Lovejoy, he signed at Oklahoma, but soon transferred back east to complete his college career at Tech. His decision to return home proved to be a wise move as he was selected First Team All-ACC along with being named All-American Honorable Mention in 2007. His Tech records include first in 100-yard rushing games (18), first in consecutive 100-yard rushing games (9) and fourth in career yards with 3,365.
Currently, Choice is at home spending time with loved ones and ironing a few wrinkles before heading back to Texas to continue his offseason conditioning and his relocation to the Dallas area.
Once training camp begins in July, he'll find himself competing on special teams blocking in the return game and delivering punishing hits on kick-off and punt coverage.
"All backs go and play special teams during their first year. I just have to go there and do my thing. Whatever I have to do, I'll do it," he said.
Dallas opens its preseason schedule Saturday, Aug. 9 at San Diego. The team begins the regular season Sept. 7 at Cleveland before returning for the home opener Monday night, Sept. 15 versus Philadelphia.