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Leave of absence

Time flies when you're having fun.

The Texans' 2004 season came and went in the blink of an eye. But rest assured, the off-season will pass even swifter, especially for the weary Texans players.

The team welcomed their short hiatus with open arms. A few days after the conclusion of the season finale against Cleveland, the group cleaned out their lockers and packed their bags for some time away from Reliant Stadium.

For about eight months, the players inhale and exhale nothing but football and the Reliant Park air. The next two months are a much-needed breather from the mental and physical rigors that the game takes on their bodies.

"They're trying to get their bodies back, relax and spend time with their families," Director of Player Programs Marcus Heard said. "They haven't seen a lot of their families. They've been here at Reliant Stadium and traveling and playing football games."

January, February and part of March are the team's recovery months. The players are able to take their children to school, eat family meals, travel and repair their broken bones and strained muscles.

Most of the team has made Houston their permanent home, so trips into the Texans weight facility are not uncommon. While rest is needed, complete absence from weight training is not a recommended option. The group continues to make cardio and weight training a part of their routine even when they're on vacation.

"A lot of time guys will atrophy," Heard explained about completely ignoring physical activity. "If you take four or eight weeks off, you're not in the best shape coming into the off-season program. We tell guys to get in some light lifts. They're not on a regimented schedule, but they just need to stay in shape."

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson hasn't slowed down though. The second-year standout has continued his workouts in the weight room and practice field back at home in Miami in preparation for his trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii next week.

And while Johnson is hard at work keeping himself nimble for the All-Star game, many other Texans have been busy with community appearances and other football commitments throughout the month of January. A few players will even make the trek to Jacksonville to represent the Texans at community and social events throughout the week.

"There are some guys that the league has contacted and said, 'Hey, we'd love for you to come here and sign autographs and make appearances Super Bowl weekend or Super Bowl week,'" Heard said.

Many others on the team are busy with their off-the-field ventures and businesses. Players like linebacker Kailee Wong and kicker Kris Brown will begin internships and others are planning to take correspondent classes to finish their college degrees.

This is where Heard's guidance and placement becomes crucial. As Director of Player Programs, he works throughout the year to help counsel the team in regards to financial, social and professional goals. The Player Programs Department emphasizes the need for education and job skills in order to prepare the team for life after football.

The off-season is the perfect time to put those practices into motion.

"The importance of internships is that some of these guys have no job skills," Heard said. "It gives them an opportunity in the off-season to be able to go out and shadow someone or even do an internship so they have an idea of what they want to do when their career in football is over."

Many team members are already involved in their own business ventures. Center Steve McKinney will be able to devote more time to his Velocity Sports Performance stores, a chain of athletic training facilities in the Houston area.

And cornerback Aaron Glenn spends his down time with his wife and three children. He also has the opportunity to get his hands deeper into his 31/31 Properties, a company where he serves as founder and CEO.

But the vacation only lasts for so long. The squad has about two months to get in their rounds of golf, cruises and business endeavors before its back to work. In mid-March the team will begin a Monday-Thursday voluntary off-season workout program.

The running and lifting program always gets 100 percent participation and runs through the April Draft. After a short break, the group joins the new rookie class for a few coaching sessions and mini-camps in May and June before July training camp, and lockdown, begin.

"In March we start our voluntary workout program and a lot of guys come to those off-season workouts," Heard said. "That helps them get ahead, get stronger, get bigger, get faster."

Don't fear Texans fans, the season is right around the corner. These next few months will be fast, furious and for the players, much-needed.

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