In high school, Grayland Arnold's biggest goal was to win the state championship in basketball. A basketball, tennis and track athlete, Arnold never had his sights set on football until a coach approached him during his freshman year at Kountze High School.
"One of the coaches, Frank Middleton, he actually played in the NFL, but he's from Beaumont," Arnold said. "He was like, what are you trying to do in the NBA? He's like, You're 5-9, man. And I was like, you know what? I went out there and I just was killing it. I ain't played too much defense, but I was killing it and I just stuck with it."
Arnold laughs now, remembering the conversation. Middleton, a third-round draft pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, played eight seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman before becoming the offensive coordinator at Kountze. Arnold never really considered the NFL before his coach's advice, perhaps because the small town, located about 100 miles northeast of Houston, didn't produce professional athletes.
"It's one of those FFA schools, agriculture towns," Arnold said. "You know, a lot of cowboys and it's real country. We got about 2000 people, population, small, small. It's one of those things where not too many people get to reach this level. Well, I don't even know anybody that has reached this level of professional sports."
From the practice squad to the 53-man roster, Arnold's career hasn't been an easy one. However, he persisted with hard work and the support from his close-knit community.
"It's one of those things where it's a small city so like everybody's behind me," Arnold said. "I can definitely feel the love and the support from my city and really all of the surrounding area. So it's big to have that type of background behind you and that type of community behind you."
Undrafted out of Baylor, Arnold spent his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles where he played in six games with one start. After being released by the Eagles before the start of the 2021 season, Arnold signed with the Houston Texans. Arnold worked his way up from the practice squad, quietly working scout team before earning snaps on special teams. But his work didn't go unnoticed. Last year, Arnold was activated and saw action in eight games for the Texans.
"He earned the opportunity, his performance," Exec. VP and General Manager Nick Caserio said. "He was close to making the roster, didn't make the initial roster, but stays prepared, stays ready, had the right attitude and had an opportunity when we elevated him to the roster."
This week, Arnold made the Texans 53-man roster.
The fourth-year safety capped off his 2023 training camp with an interception in the final minutes of Houston's preseason win at New Orleans. Fellow Baylor alum Jalen Pitre says Arnold is the one player no one is talking enough about. The two college teammates are sharing the same backfield now in the NFL.
"It's a blessing, me and Jalen," Arnold says, smiling. "I hosted Jalen on his official visit at Baylor. He's a great guy, a great kid. I've been with Jalen for a little minute, so it's definitely good just seeing him having his success. He worked so hard. I mean, it's definitely unbelievable. But the whole safety room as a whole is like it's very contagious in there."
As Arnold heads into the 2023 season, he can't help but reflect on his journey so far and appreciate how far he's come. From the small town of Kountze to the bright lights of NRG Stadium.
"When I look back, I just think about all the work that's been put in, and at the end of the day, I know work don't stop," Arnold said. "You always got to keep working and it's a beautiful journey. At the end of the day, I love it. Hey, whatever happens, happens. I don't complain. I just try to work and fit in where I fit in."