Running back Steve Slaton, the 2008 NFL rookie rushing champ, graces the cover of the 2009 Texans Yearbook.
Texans fans, get your hands on the Houston Texans Official 2009 Yearbook, which includes in-depth looks at every starter on the team as well as features on the key players on each side of the ball. Running back Steve Slaton is the cover boy this year.
Below are excerpts from each feature story in the Yearbook to whet your appetite.
Feature: 2009 season preview
Title: Taking the next step
Author: Nick Scurfield
Excerpt: In 24 years in the NFL as a player and coach, Gary Kubiak only has experienced three losing seasons. One was his first as head coach of the Texans in 2006, a season in which his team accomplished the first goal he set out to accomplish – to operate the way winning teams do.
Since then, Kubiak has had only one goal in mind for his team – to have a winning record and make the playoffs. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the Texans and their Houston-born coach have that goal in their crosshairs.
"I think our football team is as good as it's been since I've been here," Kubiak said. "We've still got a long way to go through camp and all that stuff, but we made progress last year. We were a better football team last year than we were the year before. We were a couple of wins away from being a playoff football team, and I think we're very capable of doing that."
To get to 8-8 last season, the Texans had to overcome an 0-4 start and a hurricane named Ike. The storm damaged the Reliant Stadium roof, forcing the Texans to play their first three games on the road and essentially robbing them of a bye week when their Week 2 home date with the Baltimore Ravens was postponed at the last minute.
In Ike's aftermath, Texans players and coaches shared the same concerns as most of the population in southeast Texas: damaged homes and neighborhoods, distressed family members, power outages, a lack of running water. It all became a part of their season.
**Read more by purchasing the Yearbook here**
Feature: Offense - Steve Slaton
Title: Something to prove
Author: Nick Scurfield
* Excerpt:* An NFL running back often carries a team on his shoulders. Steve Slaton carries with him much more than that.
Before his 1,282 rushing yards made him the top rookie running back in the NFL and an emerging star in one of the league's best offenses last season, he was merely Steven – Steven Michael Slaton, the youngest of six children to Carl Slaton and Juanita Tiggett-Slaton in the Philadelphia suburb of Levittown, Pa.
He grew up in a modest home with loving parents who instilled in him values like keeping family and God first, behaving right in public and always making a good first impression.
"You're only on this Earth for a small time," said his father, who works for a home heating oil company. "You want to try to make a mark, you know what I mean? So many people go through life and don't leave a mark. When they're dead and gone, you're like, 'What did they do?' They didn't do nothing. You've got to respect people and treat people like you want to be treated."
Early in life, Steve had a hard time knowing how anybody was treating him because of a hearing problem that rendered him completely deaf at times. Until the age of six, he had swollen adenoids that caused wax buildup and left excess fluid in his ear canal.
"He was hearing as if he was under water," said his mother, an engineering planner for Lockheed Martin. "He could hear you, but he couldn't hear what you were saying. So Steven was pronouncing his words the way he hears, speaking what he hears. Instead of 'glove,' it was 'blove.'"
* Feature:* Defense - Antonio Smith
Title: The underdog's on top
Author: Brooke Bentley
Excerpt: Antonio Smith was a fifth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State in the Arizona Cardinals' celebrated 2004 draft class, which included wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. While his fellow rookies enjoyed early acclaim, Smith was assigned to the practice squad, where he stayed until the team activated him for the final three games of the season.
"My first year in the league was a learning experience," Smith said. "I started out in training camp doing pretty well; then, the player that was in front of me moved to offense. I was up next to be a starter, and I hurt my shoulder the same day he moved positions. I couldn't play the rest of training camp, so they cut me and put me on the practice squad. It stung at first, and I was down about it and didn't know what to do."
It didn't take Smith long to realize that he had one option: to work hard, day in and day out.
"When Antonio first got there, the talent was obvious," said Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush, who was serving as Arizona's linebackers coach at the time. "What we saw was a kid who was extremely talented, but at the same time, he was all over the place. He just couldn't get everything going in the right direction.
"Slowly, he started to get better and better, and he put in a lot of work to get himself better. He stayed countless hours after practice working on his craft, his technique, using his hands and whatnot. He also got himself bigger and better in the weight room."
Feature: Special teams - Kris Brown
Title: The best is yet to come
Author: Brooke Bentley
* Excerpt:*The routine is always the same for Kris Brown. He picks out a target, sets his alignment and then swings. Yes, swings.
Brown is an avid golfer, one of the most talented on the team with a handicap of five. During the offseason, he juggles spending time with his wife and three children with hitting the links. But golf provides more than stress relief or a social outlet for Brown; it's a way for him to enhance his day job as the kicker for the Texans.
"I go through the same process on the golf course as I do on the football field," Brown said. "I pick out a target, get committed to my target and then get my alignment squared away. All those things are things you have to do when you play golf, and by going on the golf course and working on those things mentally, it helps my process and routine on the football field."
Special teams coordinator Joe Marciano has seen firsthand how Brown's mental and physical discipline has translated from golf to football. Before the 2006 season, Marciano changed Brown's kicking technique, changes that the kicker conceptualized through golf.
"We simplified things," Marciano said. "He was taking a jab step and a hop step. He was covering a lot of ground, and I told him to eliminate those steps and cover less ground. He equated it to golf. He said, 'In golf, the more moving parts there are, the greater the chance there is that something goes wrong.' And that helped him see how to eliminate the moving parts."
Feature: Rookies - Brian Cushing
Title: It's business time
Author: Nick Schenck
Excerpt:Some images are worth a thousand words, and other times, words cannot do an image justice. In the latter case, thank goodness for YouTube.
Take a moment to visit the popular video-sharing site and type "Brian Cushing seated box jump" in the search field. Click on the first thumbnail that appears to view footage of Cushing, the Texans' 2009 first-round pick, leaping 50 inches from a seat onto the top of a box while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest.
The video, shot in New Jersey this past March by Cushing's long-time trainer, Joe DeFranco, exemplifies the intensity, work ethic and sheer athleticism that propelled Cushing to become the No. 15 overall selection and second linebacker chosen in this April's NFL draft.
"A (180-pound) defensive back might be able to do that," DeFranco said. "I think Brian weighed 250 at the time.
"Then, you throw in the fact that he can bench in the mid-400s, his vertical jump is in the 35-, 36-inch range, he squats well over 500 pounds… and runs a 4.0 in the agility (test). It's the combination of everything that makes him a special athlete."
Cushing tests the laws of physics with his eye-popping numbers in various strength and speed tests, but to a large extent, he is a self-made athlete. Genetically, Cushing is gifted, but to discount his discipline and dedication would be to miss what separates him from other highly-touted players.