This story was featured in a recent Texans Gameday magazine.*
Every day for the past eight years, Duane Brown has driven the same path up to NRG Stadium, walked the same halls, and entered the same locker room. The Texans All-Pro left tackle is the longest-tenured player on the roster, drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
"Every season goes by faster than the one before, and I'm just blessed to be here, to be in this position," Brown said on his weekly Texans Radio show. "To be able to play this game as long as I have, to be able to play in the level that I've played in, to earn the respect of my peers, my teammates, the coaching staff, it's an honor."
Brown has been through the ups and downs of win streaks, losing streaks, playoff wins and losses, and seen teammates come and go over the years. He has started 116 games, the second most in Texans history (Andre Johnson, 169). His experience both on and off the field is invaluable to the locker room.
"Duane is a great leader," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's been an excellent leader this year on offense. He's been great with the younger players and he has been through a lot in this league. He's played a lot of years at a very high level. He's had a lot of different experiences. He's able to talk to the younger players about staying after it and sticking with the grind and the day-to-day operation is what's most important."
For Brown, complacency is never an option. The three-time Pro Bowler has emerged as one of the league's top left tackles but his preparation never ends.
"You have to be self-motivated before anything," Browns said. "You have to be a competitor against yourself, the person you were yesterday."
Brown is always watching plays on his tablet, sometimes as soon as the game ends. He watches film of himself and sometimes other players and their techniques.
"You're here to be the best player you can be for this team and it doesn't just happen while you're in the building," Brown said. "You have to do work outside of the building in order to be that player that they want you to be. A lot of rookies don't understand that the first year or so, but you learn pretty quickly."
A successful NFL player's work includes many things: film study, preparation, and strength and conditioning. Professional athletes are held to the highest standards of fitness while enduring the most physical demands on their bodies. It's a fine balance, according to Brown. He's constantly looking for more ways to keep his body fresh after games. For instance, three years ago, he began getting massages regularly after games.
"Your body is how you make a living," Brown said. "As long as you hold up, you can keep playing this sport at play at a high level. So you have to take measures in order to keep it and sustain it. If you don't, then it can fall apart pretty quickly."
Being the longest-tenured player on the roster, it's natural that Brown is a team leader. He admits to becoming more vocal over the years but prefers to lead by example. He takes every moment seriously, from meetings to walkthroughs to games.
"A lot of rookies, second year, or third year players come to me with questions," Brown said. "I'm more than happy to have conversations with them. Whatever way I can help. People always paved the way for me and set a great example for me, so I just try to do the same thing."
Brown works hard to make a difference off the field too. His work includes a heavy involvement in the community. He is a national ambassador for the American Diabetes Association, ambassador for the United Way's education initiatives and spokesman for BHP Billiton's Community Quarterback program, which recognizes philanthropic leaders in Houston. He has also been an advocate for the Houston Food Bank, hosted holiday fundraisers for local children's organizations and can always be found participating in teammates' philanthropic events.
On Dec. 2, the one-year anniversary of "Duane Brown Day" in Houston, Brown and his wife, Devi, made a donation to the group that nominated him for the honor in 2014, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department's Recreation and Wellness Division.
"I think for us as athletes, in general, it's important for us to give back to the community," Brown said. "We have been given so much. It is only right for us to give back to the less fortunate or give back to children, so I try to do all I can do to donate time, anything money-wise, to any cause that I can. It is very important to me."
Every Tuesday for the past two seasons, Brown co-hosts a one-hour radio show on his day off. He signs autographs and takes pictures with fans, always amazed at the turnout of Texans fans who come out to support him and the team. It's a great feeling, Brown says, to be part of a community for his entire career.
"This is my eighth year here and I've been able to kind of grow up a lot in this city and really become a Houstonian myself," Brown said. "A lot of people don't have that luxury. You see a lot of guys play two years here, go somewhere else, play two years there, go another place. I've been able to call this place home."
Texans T Duane Brown was ranked 48th by his NFL peers in the Top 100 Players of 2013. Check out pictures of the Pro Bowler here.