FRISCO, Texas -- Randy Gregory's favorite moment in the Dallas Cowboys' 2020 NFL season came in a 41-16 loss to the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving. As displeased as the defensive end was with the game's result, Gregory was happy to be in a pro uniform, playing in front of his parents, daughter, girlfriend and friends at AT&T Stadium.
"Just the fact that I never gave up," Gregory said when asked what he is most proud of. "Had times where I doubted myself. I had times where I was wondering what life would be like without football, but the biggest thing to me is I never gave up. ... This is the place I need to be, around the people that are here."
Gregory's career has been marked by numerous suspensions for violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy that kept him off the field completely during the 2017 and 2019 seasons.
Gregory, 28, was reinstated by the league on a conditional basis this offseason, and after missing the first six games, he has played in the past seven. He has been credited with 12 tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and 12 quarterback hurries.
"I appreciate everything that led up to this, me coming back," Gregory said. "I've said in the past that football is probably the most natural thing there is on this planet to me. I love the game. There's been times where I haven't loved what it means to be a professional in the NFL, but I do love the game. ... Being around the teammates I have and the coaching staff I have, my parents and my family being able to go to the games and watch me play and just kind of rebuilding my reputation, whatever it is now ... Honestly, it's an honor to be on this team and still be valued in the league right now."
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy did not know Gregory before coming to Dallas but has been impressed with him so far.
"He's a very consistent, very likable young man. He brings the same approach every day. He fits right in," McCarthy said. "I mean really from day one, you would've thought he's been here from the beginning. He's a tremendous story, and I think the part that I've been so impressed with is the fact that he's been public about it. It's obviously something very difficult to deal with and he's been public about it. But he's a private [person]. His disposition, he tends to keep things to himself and goes about it in a good way."
Gregory fell to the second round of the draft in 2015 because of off-field issues that surfaced during his playing days at Nebraska and scared off teams. The Cowboys took a chance and drafted him and have stood by him ever since. He signed a one-year extension upon his reinstatement that included a $200,000 signing bonus.
"Mr. Jones, the whole Jones family, they know how much they mean to me. I think at this point, I understand how much I mean to them," Gregory said. "I understand there's a business side of things when it comes to this sport, but one of the things I appreciate the most from the Jones family is they've been able to take away the business aspect of it and really focus on me as an individual person."
Gregory has gone through extensive counseling and singled out psychologist Dina Hijazi for her help in dealing with anxiety issues.
"I'd say I am a little bit better equipped," Gregory said. "I think that goes with maturity, just getting older, experiencing different things in life, on and off the field, so I've always said it -- it's a day-to-day thing. 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. ... Very proud of myself, proud of the individuals who helped me get here and I just take it one day at a time."