LARAMIE — Rico Gafford’s goal going into his senior season at Wyoming was to prove that he could compete at the NFL level. With the season winding down, he’s adding bullet points to his resume.
The cornerback was recently voted second-team all-Mountain West, thanks to his 0.33 interceptions per game this season, tied for second in the conference.
“It was very cool,” Gafford said of hearing the news. “I didn’t expect it at all, but I had a decent season. Wish it would’ve been better and I’m just thankful for the guys that voted for me and thankful for the coaches that put me on the ballot.”
As a junior-college transfer, Gafford had just two seasons at Wyoming to prove what he could do at the Division-I level. This season, he had six pass breakups in addition to his interceptions, giving him 10 passes defended on the year, tied for seventh in the Mountain West.
“I tried to do what I could and missed a lot of opportunities, but the things that I’ve done so far have helped a lot,” Gafford said. “So I’m very thankful for that. If I could go back, I’d change some things. I wouldn’t change a lot of things, but everything happens for a reason, and I’m very thankful for the opportunities.”
Gafford also recently accepted an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which will be held Jan. 20 at the Rose Bowl. He had checked the watch lists for a number of senior bowls before the season and saw that he was not on the Reese’s Senior Bowl’s list, which is considered the top choice. He was on some other lists, however.
“So it’s like, well, they’re noticing me, but maybe the top one, the Reese’s one is for like the Power Five, the top guy and everything like that,” Gafford said. “So I’m like, ‘OK, I just have to go here and show what I have in me and everything and everything will work out and (run) its course.’ I obviously was watching that stuff this year. I knew there could’ve been a chance of it coming. I never thought it would. I just never got my hopes high.”
He started the season strong, intercepting a pass in four of his first six games, including a pair of highlight-reel grabs and an interception return for a touchdown. Under first-year defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton, Gafford began to rack up statistics in a defense that gives the cornerbacks more opportunities to make plays on the ball.
“Last year, I only ended up with two (interceptions), and this year I ended up with four and could’ve ended up with about six or seven,” Gafford said. “But I’m very thankful for the defense that Coach Haze brought in, and I was able to adapt pretty well and excel here and excel there.”
Gafford initially received an invitation from the Gridiron Showcase, which was attended by former Cowboys Jacob Hollister and Jake Maulhardt last year. Then, Gafford started looking into the other bowls. He spoke with director of recruiting Justin Mesa, who mentioned that a representative from the Collegiate Bowl had attended some Wyoming practices. Mesa got back in touch with him.
“(Mesa) told me the guy gave me a thumbs up and he said he’d be coming around a lot more,” Gafford said.
Before Wyoming’s regular-season finale at San Jose State, Wyoming cornerbacks coach John Richardson told Gafford that the Collegiate Bowl representative would be at the game.
“So I’m like, ‘Oh, I need to do something so he can give me that invite,’” Gafford said.
A few days later, Richardson called Gafford to let him know he had received an invitation.
“I was just relieved and happy,” Gafford said. “So, (I’m) very happy for the opportunity, and I’m planning on going out there January 20th and showing them what I have and hopefully I can excel from there and get a few more of whatever comes.”
After Wyoming’s bowl game, Gafford will be able to select an agent. He said he has spoken to around six already.
“They let me know that teams are looking at you and everything,” said Gafford, who has yet to decide where he will work out after the season. “I’m hearing stuff around the NFL that includes my name and everything.”
With a few accomplishments under his belt, Gafford’s name carries a little more weight.