- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Josh Mauro was like a lot of kids growing up in the area. He was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. He even attended the final game at Texas Stadium, a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. He hoped one day he would wear the star on his helmet.
Today Mauro, who played defensive line at Stanford after leaving Hurst L.D. Bell, is at Valley Ranch with other Dallas Day hopefuls -- working out for the team while his immediate family watches. Mauro will be joined by other locals like TCU safety Elisha Olabode, Missouri quarterback James Franklin (Corinth), Abilene Christian receiver Taylor Gabriel (Mesquite), Miami defensive back Kacy Rodgers (Southlake Carroll) -- whose dad was the Cowboys defensive line coach from 2003-07 -- and North Texas running back Zach Orr (DeSoto).
"It's kind of like a dream come true," Mauro said. "Playing Pee Wee football and high school, you see the Cowboys and it's like a dream to think you could play for them. This isn't a sign-up for the Cowboys, but to even have the opportunity to work out for them is something special."
Mauro, 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, played defensive end, defensive tackle and even some nose tackle for Stanford. He had 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and an interception for one of the best defenses in college football in 2013.
He knows the Cowboys have defensive line needs, too. He knows DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos, Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins and Anthony Spencer remains unsigned. He is aware they signed Henry Melton.
"You're talking two, possibly three starters up front in that defense that aren't there anymore," Mauro said.
Mauro met with Cowboys assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and other coaches at the NFL scouting combine in February. He played in the East-West Shrine Game and worked out in California, with former Stanford players like Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener and other current NFL players.
"It's a great work environment, just getting to be with guys that are like minded and in the NFL," Mauro said. "I've been able to learn a lot from them."
ESPN Insiders have him as the 21st ranked defensive end, but his versatility puts him on the radar of 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Having played in a multiple defenses used at Stanford also helps. When he arrived at Stanford, Vic Fangio was his coordinator. Fangio now runs the San Francisco 49ers defense. Josh Tarver took over for Fangio, and he now runs the Oakland Raiders defense. Derek Mason took over for Tarver and he is now the head coach at Vanderbilt.
"Say a team runs a 3-4, the guys they'll have aren't just the typical big, block squares just two-gapping," Mauro said. "It's a passing league. You've got to be able to play different personnel. Look at a team like New England. They might have one down lineman and standing up the other 10 guys. The game is so different. It's not the traditional tight end, two backs, two wide receivers. It could be three, four, five wide receivers. The name of the game is to get to the quarterback. I've been able to do that at Stanford from a lot of different positions. Nowadays getting to the quarterback whether it be from the nine technique or nose guard, you've got to be able to create mismatches for people in different positions."
"I still remember we wrote our goal letters at every training period at Stanford," Mauro said. "My first goal was to eventually become a starter at Stanford, an All-American defensive end and be a future first-round pick. Now coming out of high school that was a very, very ambitious goal and I wasn't heavily recruited. I had a few offers, but I always set the bar high so even if I fall short of my expectations I'd still end up in a good place. I always believed in it. Three years in the program I hadn't played very much. The fourth year I came in off the bench and was the energy guy … . My fifth year I ended up starting 11 games and was productive and helped one of the best defenses in the nation. Everything is kind of surreal. You couldn't plan it out. You just always have to believe in yourself if no one is believing in you."