At his second Combine as the Texans head coach, Bill O'Brien's seen a slew of familiar faces.
In particular, five Nittany Lions he coached in 2012 and 2013 at Penn State.
Safety Adrian Amos, kicker Sam Ficken, linebacker Mike Hull, tight end Jesse James and guard Donovan Smith took part in the evaluation process at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this week, but O'Brien said he knew more than enough about his former players.
"Those guys practiced hard for me," O'Brien said of the quintet. "They showed up every Saturday and
played hard. They were important members of the two teams that I coached at Penn State."
The Nittany Lions went 8-4 the first season under O'Brien, and then 7-5 in 2013. The Texans' head coach has fond memories of the five key players at the Combine from those squads.
"I can't say enough about those guys and I hope they get their opportunity," O'Brien said. "Those guys did a lot for us and we owe a lot to all those players. Hopefully they get an opportunity to play pro football."
The pair of seasons playing under O'Brien proved to be valuable, mentally, for those five. Offensive lineman Donovan Smith was thankful for the time spent playing for O'Brien.
"He did a great job preparing us mentally, physically, and being able to explain to us the game," Smith said. "That's where I learned most of my football from those two years."
But it wasn't just football for O'Brien and those players. He also stuck up for some, like kicker Sam Ficken, when they went through rocky times of their own.
"After I had a really rough game at Virginia, first and foremost, he went up to the media and said 'It's not Sam Ficken's fault we lost the game,'" Ficken said. "And that means a lot. Especially given the circumstances. I was struggling in my own capacity. So for him to kind of back me up, and not to say that it wasn't my fault. It certainly was. Just to have the support of him."
Linebacker Mike Hull said he and O'Brien exchanged pleasantries on Friday at the Combine during workouts. In Hull's view, his former head coach "steadied the ship" at Penn State. He also said Hull could contact him any time he needed advice.
As for where the five might wind up in the NFL, that question will get answered in May. For their former leader, a trip to the Bayou City wouldn't be all that bad.
"You never know," O'Brien said with a smile. "Maybe one of them will get an opportunity in Houston."
Friday at the Combine, NFL hopefuls worked out and met with the media at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photos courtesy of Associated Press)