A television, an air mattress and dreams of one day making the active roster were the only things keeping Arian Foster company during Texans away games in the early part of the 2009 season.
Then an undrafted rookie, the running back was relegated to the practice squad and didn't travel with the team on road trips. He lived alone and watched in solitude as his teammates went to battle that autumn.
"I didn't have a couch yet, because I'd just moved in," Foster said. "So I was sleeping on a blowup mattress, and I was just watching the games on a blowup mattress."
Foster's wife-to-be and daughter were in Germany for the bulk of that September, October and early November. The running back's home life was a Spartan existence, with very little in the way of décor, much less furniture basics.
Three years, two number changes, an NFL rushing title, two Pro Bowl nods, a new contract, a Vegan lifestyle switch and a pronounced furniture upgrade are just a few things that separate that Foster from the current one.
Today is a perfect reminder of just how far Foster has come, because his first bit of action in regular-season play was against the Titans at home on Monday Night Football as a rookie. Foster sported the number 27 that night and didn't carry the ball, instead contributing on punt and kickoff coverage.
It wasn't a memorable debut for fans of the team, but it was definitely a big deal to Foster. And for special teams coordinator Joe Marciano, it now serves as a teaching tool.
"We show tape of Arian Foster the first week he was active on the kickoff coverage team," Marciano said. "He went in there, took on the wedge and made a tackle. He'd never done that before. That's the kind of stuff that's rewarding, to teach guys who've never done it to have some success."
That hard-nosed, dedicated mentality have served Foster well. In addition to the offseason conditioning work he puts in with his teammates at Reliant Stadium, Foster also leans on his brother and trainer Abdul, who guides him through rigorous workout programs in preparation for what is always a grueling NFL campaign.
In fact, if you ask Texans executive vice president/general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak about their franchise back, the first thing they mention is his drive to improve.
"He's a worker," Smith said. "The guy has a level of commitment to working in the offseason that's second to none, and he had another outstanding offseason."
Foster, who changed from number 27 to 37 as a rookie and settled on 23 before his second season, is primed for a prosperous 2012. Smith and company expect "big things" out of the All-Pro running back over the next four-and-a-half months.
Foster currently ranks fifth in the NFL with 294 rushing yards, 105 of which came on 25 carries last Sunday in the victory at Denver. He has more than 25 carries in each of the Texans' three victories.
"I talked to Arian after the (Broncos) game," Kubiak said. "It's a long season, and we rely on him a great deal. The more fresh we can keep Arian, the better he's going to be. But at the same time, there are certain days were the more he carries it, the better he gets. It's just the way he is."
Foster has experienced success against the Titans, the pro team located a few hours from where he played his college ball at Tennessee. He carried 30 times for 143 yards in a 2010 victory at home. He exploded against the Titans in Nashville last season with 25 rushes for 115 yards and two scores, along with five catches for 119 yards and another touchdown.
Having that success in the state he starred collegiately was special to Foster, as he explained last year after the Texans' 41-7 victory at LP Field.
"Every time the plane lands and you get that Tennessee smell, and if you went to Tennessee like I did, you understand what I'm talking about," Foster said. "It's just very nostalgic the feeling of coming back here. It always feels like a second home. I gave four years to Tennessee, and it was a fun experience. I became a man here, and it's a good feeling."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub knows the value of having Foster on his side.
"He is always a guy we try to get in space," Schaub said. "Once he gets the ball in his hands, it's hard to bring him down. If you're in open space and it's one-on-one, he is going to win that battle nine of 10 times."
Foster and the Texans can pick up their fourth win in as many games this season. For Foster, doing it against a division rival from his "second home" state would make it just a tad sweeter.