Wide receiver Travis Labhart seems to thrive as the underdog.
Known for being a practice player with the 2010 Texas A&M women's basketball team, Labhart knows what it takes to become a starter from the ground up. The former walk-on earned himself a scholarship and became a favorite target for quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2013. Finishing with 626 yards and eight touchdowns on 51 catches his senior season, Labhart became a top threat at slot receiver.
Labhart hopes that history repeats itself.
This preseason, the undrafted rookie has already racked up 58 receiving yards on five catches, including the game-winning two-point conversion in Saturday night's 18-17 victory over the Denver Broncos. With Mike Thomas, fifth-year veteran slot receiver out for the Texans' second preseason game against Atlanta, Labhart took full advantage of the extra playing time, catching three passes for 36 yards in the win.
Head coach Bill O'Brien has taken notice of the 23-year-old's work ethic and how well he has learned the system.
"He's instinctive, he's got good hands, he's tough, smart player, works hard—works really hard at it," O'Brien said Sunday. "Even last night on that two-point play, we put him in a position where the original play call we were going to have him in a different spot and at the last second we kind of changed him to where he ended up catching the pass. He had to think quick there and get lined up and know what to do and that's the type of kid he is. So he's earned himself playing time and it's been fun to watch him improve every week."
Hard work seems to be wired in his DNA but so his instincts have guided him well. The scrappy slot receiver from Whitesboro, Texas, finds ways to get open in crucial situations. It all gives him confidence, getting his assignments correct, knowing he's open, and then making the catch.
"Obviously, I'm not the biggest guy so I think it's probably just I've always been undersized and always had to work a little harder than most because I may not have the talent or the size that some other guys have so you have to make up for it in other areas," Labhart said last week. " I think that it's something that's kind of driven me, people kind of saying 'you can do this' or 'you can't do that.' I think that's where it's derived from."