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Rookies visit Pro Football Hall of Fame


The Texans' rookies saw the NFL in a completely different light this summer. All drafted and undrafted rookies, plus second-year pro Brandon Mitchell, traveled to Canton, Ohio to tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They got to meet NFL greats like nine-time Pro Bowl running back Jim Brown and former Houston Oiler Hall of Famer Kenny Houston.

"It's my first time here," defensive tackle Frank Okam said. "Being able to see the history of the game, I think, is important for any young player. Definitely, it gives you a foundation of what you need to do to be successful in this league. Having Jim Brown there and Kenny Houston there to instill some values about the game is very important.

"I think for a young guy, when you see speakers who have been in the game a long time and put a lot of hard work into it, it's something you can definitely learn about."

This year marks the first in which each NFL teams' rookies will visit the Hall of Fame, a proposal put forth last year by Michael Irvin and later implemented by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"One thing that stood out for me is that Michael Irvin brought this idea up to the commissioner," Okam said. "When you are a young guy, a rookie, you need to get the basics and the foundation of the game and learn what the NFL is about. When you've got that foundation from the start, that can really help your career and guide you."

Houston, who made 12 Pro Bowls in his 14-year career that began with the 1967 Oilers, spoke at length to the players about their roles as leaders on and off the field.

"I got a chance to talk to the guys and share some of the experiences and let them know that they have a responsibility to the community when they are playing a professional sport," Houston said.

"A program like this would have been very good for me. When I started, we didn't have this. I had no idea where the Hall of Fame was. I had heard of Jim Thorpe, but you just couldn't put it to reality."

Houston shared his story of going from a college program to the Hall of Fame.

"I told the group, 'If I can make the Hall of Fame, anyone on that bus could because I wasn't picked to be a starter,'" Houston said.

The only school that recruited Houston after high school was Prairie State College (now Prairie View A&M University). He was the starting linebacker there and was selected as an All-American in the Southwest Conference.

Houston was a late-round draft pick for the Oilers, but became a starter by the third game of his rookie season. Two weeks later, in a game against the New York Jets, he scored two touchdowns, one on a 71-yard blocked field goal attempt and the other on a 43-yard interception return. In 197,1 he set an NFL record with five touchdown returns, which would stand until surpassed by Devin Hester's six return touchdowns in the 2006 season.

Houston's talk struck a chord with the rookies, especially left tackle Duane Brown.

"I think this can change your character really," Brown said. "You see how you have to conduct yourself, especially being a rookie. I think this is very beneficial for me as a rookie. It's not just about being a football player, it's about having a love for the game, having a passion for the game. It's about how to conduct yourself off of the field and be a great citizen and be a great person. And that can take you longer than football can."

Okam echoed those sentiments.

"They let you know that you aren't just a football player, but you are a role model now and you are someone who is representing more than just yourself," Okam said. "When you take that to heart, you know that it's more than just the name on your back and the name on your front. It's about everything you stand for and the foundations you set for your whole life."

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