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'Jalen Rules': former coaches, current teammates on Jalen Pitre

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Jalen Pitre was excellent his rookie season.

Last fall, the Texans safety started every game, picked off five passes, recovered a fumble and led the team with 147 tackles.

He was a leader on defense, and one of the bright spots in a campaign that saw Houston drop 13 games.

Born and raised just 11 miles from NRG Stadium, the Stafford native is a clear building block for his hometown team.

After an All-American career at Baylor, the Texans selected PItre in the second round of the NFL Draft in 2022.

A year later in the spring, Texans TV caught up with some of his former high school coaches, his college coach in Dave Aranda, and many of his current teammates and assistants.

In those conversations, it's very clear: Pitre is a heady, talented leader, and poised for more greatness in the years to come.

Like Pitre, defensive lineman Jerry Hughes grew up just southwest of Houston, but in Sugar Land. Also like Pitre, Hughes played his college ball in Texas, but at TCU. The two were teammates together in 2022, and the 14-year veteran was impressed by what he saw from Pitre this May and June to start year two in professional football.

HUGHES: "Pitre is moving probably a step ahead of everyone at this time."

Noah Brown signed with the Texans this offseason, and the former Dallas Cowboy saw firsthand what Pitre could do on the field last December. The then-rookie tattooed several Cowboys pass-catchers, and finished with a dozen tackles and a pair of pass breakups. Pitre made a lasting impression.

BROWN: "Man, that's one of the first things I remember about that game: Number 5 flying around. Coming out here and being able to practice with him for about two, three weeks, you see how he does it on game day because he does it on the practice field. He's a creature of habit and he has great habits."

Like Brown, wide receiver Robert Woods signed with Houston in free agency this offseason. Last year with Tennessee, Woods squared off against Pitre two times.

WOODS: He's a good, strong, willing safety. He doesn't turn down contact, being able to fit in the hole. Good instincts.

DeMeco Ryans is now the head coach, and Matt Burke is the Texans defensive coordinator. The latter gave an insight to Pitre's first spring under the new coaching staff.

BURKE: "DeMeco has a team meeting pretty much every morning, kind of recapping some of the stuff that happened from the day before. I would say Jalen sort of finishing and effort shows up on that tape probably as much as anybody. I'm not going to discount anybody else, but just the way he approaches finishing every play in practice, being in good football position. He's great. Doesn't say much in the meeting rooms and stuff from that point of view, but man, is super-communicative on the field."

Communicating on the field has always been a strong point of Pitre's. When he was a sixth-grader, Pitre played on a select youth football team from the Sugar Land/Stafford area. Future NFL stars like CeeDee Lamb and Grant Delpit were teammates. But Chad Jones, who coached that team, and then went on to be an assistant coach of Pitre's at Stafford High School, said it was clear who the leader was of that bunch.

JONES: "We went played all over the United States and we never lost. We had a lot of great athletes on that team. He just understood everything. He was like a field general. it was just amazing how he used to understand stuff."

When high school rolled around, Pitre made a substantial impact beginning his sophomore season. A leader at the back end of the Spartans defense, he also chipped in at running back and in the return game as well. Jones, Quirino Silva and Ken Savanah were all defensive assistants under head coach Ron Counter when Pitre played at Stafford. Savanah succeeded Counter and is now the Spartans' head coach, while Silva's currently the head coach at Cleveland High School north of Houston.

JONES: "He was a coach on the field for us at Stafford. He elevated his teammates to a higher standard. He made plays all the time."

SILVA: "It was just like having a defensive coordinator on the field while he played for us. That's very, very rare. People always told us, 'Man, you all are doing a good job over there with him and his class.' Well, when you got a player like Jalen Pitre, it's real easy to say that you're a good coach."

JONES: "He was just so ahead of his time. It was amazing. He probably has the highest football IQ that I ever been around, and I've been around some pro players."

SILVA: "There were many times in high school where we would send a defense in and right away Jalen would see and react with, 'Well, that's not the defense we need to be in.' And he would change it up just like that, just by seeing what the formation was."

Pitre and company helped turn around a Stafford program that had been struggling. The wins piled up, and playoff berths became routine. Each Monday after practice in-season, the Spartans run 100-yard sprints for every point they allowed in the previous week's game. That all started with Pitre almost a decade ago.

SAVANAH: "'We give up points…we're going to run.' He started that. It wasn't like we made them go out and do it. And then the next thing you know, when you look up again, he's got the whole team out there and he's got the offensive guys out there. They didn't give up any points, but they were out there running, too.

They set a tradition. They set a standard. And we still play by that standard. You'll come out here in the fall now, and they're still running if we give up points. That says a lot about what they what they established."

Pitre thrived in college at Baylor. When Dave Aranda took over as head coach in 2020, Pitre had two seasons of eligibility remaining. He flourished, racking up 29.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and four picks in those autumns. In 2021, Pitre was an All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. According to Aranda, the Baylor staff had to coach the rest of the team differently.

ARANDA: "Eventually we had 'Jalen Rules'. Jalen can do this. But you, you're not Jalen, so you can't do this. But Jalen can do it. On the field, he was just way innovative, way creative, and played with a chip on his shoulder, an edge. It got to the point to where if we were blitzing off an edge, and the tackle would overset on Jalen because he's rushing, we would say 'Hey you're a contain rusher, so you've got to stay outside.' But Jalen would come inside and make the sack. And he would do it again and again."

TEXANS DB JIMMIE WARD: "He told me a little about his background story and how he played nickel in college, and that's similar to what I did. I'm excited because it can be interchangeable where I don't always have to cover, he doesn't always have to blitz or he don't always have to be in the post. We can switch it up and that's great for a defense because we can disguise better."

ARANDA: "Jalen's a great person. There's a level of class with him. A respect for other people. Academically he was crushing it while he was here. It was important to him. He was devoted and focused when he was in class. Off the field he just kind of kept to his own. He was a professional before he was a professional. The Pitre that we saw when we were there was already at these levels."

Following that 2021 season, Pitre was a highly-rated draft prospect. His name was called on the second night by Houston, and shortly after that, many of his former coaches were able to open up envelopes Pitre had sent them. In each one, he'd written a personalized thank you letter.

SILVA: "It was surreal just having him write me that letter and just to hear him say, 'Hey, you were a part of why I'm here. It was just the greatest honor I've had as a coach. I'm actually getting choked up now, just like I did when I read it the first time. At the time, I couldn't finish reading it, so I had one of my nieces actually finish it for me.

Late in the 2022 season, near the end of a bitter cold Christmas Eve road game at Tennessee, the Titans were driving and had one last shot. Down 19-14, with five seconds remaining, Pitre picked off a Hail Mary pass in the end zone, and sealed the Texans' second victory of the season. Aranda had seen that before from Pitre.

ARANDA: "The other thing that came up with him as a player was, there were times where the game needed to be closed out. There were times where we needed to make a play. When you have a young, inexperienced team like we did, you're worried about, 'Are we going to jump offsides' or 'Are we going to have a holding penalty'? With Jalen, it was like 'Watch him. He's going to make this play.' It was just way cool. We certainly miss it, but we're excited for him. I know he had a great year. He's going to have another one."

Pitre's in the NFL, and set for a big year in 2023. But he's not forgotten his roots. He still returns to his alma mater and talks to young Spartans.

JONES: "He always comes back and talks to the kids before some games. It's helpful because it gives kids a sense when you can see a guy that was in the same room, locker room where you are and he made it. When he comes back, he kind of gives them the blueprint to get there. I think we're going to produce some more kids who head to the NFL.

Pitre and the Texans begin training camp nexts week with a  practice at the Houston Methodist Training Center. It starts Wednesday at 9 a.m.

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