Room to breathe

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Sears sees visions of opposing offenses in his head while pummeling the sleds during the Texans June mini-camp.

For the first time in his life, Corey Sears is able to breathe through his nose.

Just about a month ago, the Texans defensive end underwent nasal and sinus surgery to correct a problem that previously gave him years of breathing difficulty and asthma. * *The surgeons removed Sears' tonsils and rebuilt some of his nasal walls and cavities, in other words, they gave him room to breathe.

Though he was in and out of the hospital without a stay, Sears is still recuperating from the procedure.

"I'm still recovering from it, it took me about two weeks before I got back out onto the field," he said.

While most of us take breathing for granted, Sears is re-training his body to take in oxygen in a different way than ever before. As an athlete, it makes his feat exceptionally more difficult.

"It's strange because I've never been able to breathe out of my nose so I have to get that breathing pattern down because I choke myself," Sears explained.

For an aspiring and driven athlete, the frustration of blocked breathing is overwhelming and many times, health-threatening. Because Sears was only able to breathe out of his mouth, he sometimes experienced problems during hot summer practices and was forced to re-hydrate intravenously.

For the rest of us, imagine having a 24-hour-a-day cold. The comparison was Sears normal breathing pattern. He learned to live with it and take deep breathes through his mouth.

The explosive lineman is looking to step up his production in 2003 and the surgery could play a major part in conquering the challenge. He'll be entering his fifth NFL season and second in Houston, where he rotated as a versatile backup at all three positions along the defensive line in every game last season.

He was signed to the Texans squad as a free agent in February of 2002 after sitting out the entire 2001 season. Prior to a year hiatus from the game, Sears spent time with St. Louis in 1998 and Arizona from 1999-2000.

During last summer's training camp, Sears not only had to re-acclimate himself with the game, but also battle for a spot on the inaugural roster. Playing alongside veterans like Seth Payne and Gary Walker helped him pick up the schemes and Sears' strong work ethic impressed coaches enough to give him a shot at regular season play.

Texans defensive line coach Todd Grantham was one of Sears' biggest advocates. He trusted that every day Sears took the field, he was going to give his team a 100% effort.

"Corey's a guy that came to one of our tryouts and he did a good job and we decided to sign him," Grantham said. "He basically started at the bottom and worked his way up in our program. He worked very hard.

"He's one of those guys that gives you everything he's got every time he's in there. He always hung in there and did his best and by doing that he hung around and made some plays."

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Sears made his first NFL sack when he took down Titans QB Steve McNair in front of a home crowd.

One of those plays was his first career sack in the season finale against Tennessee. He dropped the elusive Steve McNair in front a packed Reliant Stadium and ended the season on just the note he wants to ring in 2003 with.

"I'm trying to up my sacks and play better than I did last year," Sears said. "I sat for two years before I played last year so it was good for me to get back onto the field.

"I have to be consistent and keep going where I left off last year. I ended with a sack last season so I have to keep that going and set that standard for myself this year."

Sears tallied a career-high 47 stops and recorded a single-game career high against Washington when he collected six tackles.

While the Texans have a strong defensive line in starters Payne, Walker and Jerry Deloach, Sears is a valuable part of the equation, able to fill in for any of those players on the dime.

In addition, Sears has built strong working connections with his counterparts, learning something different from each one. He's also developed a strong respect for his tutor, Grantham.

"He's a good guy, a good teacher," Sears said about Grantham's coaching style. "He coaches hard and that's what we need. I learned a lot from him and I'm going to learn a lot from him this year. One day I want to be a coach so I'm going to take a little from him and incorporate it into what I do."

If there's one thing Sears has learned since he first became a Texan, is that when his teammates tell him something, their words are golden. During the course of last year's campaign, Sears turned to Walker and told him that he was sure Walker would notch a Pro Bowl season.

Walker's reply?

"If I make it to the Pro Bowl, I'm taking you with me."

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Sears (middle) enjoyed a trip to Honolulu as Pro Bowl Gary Walker's (right) guest of honor.

A few short months later, Sears found himself in Honolulu supporting his teammate and representing the strong Texans defensive line.

"We're the original defensive line here so having one of the guys go to the Pro Bowl reflects on all of us so we supported Gary when he went down to the Pro Bowl," Sears said. "He honored the deal which was cool. I had a real good time."

While the competition is still tough along the line heading into 2003 summer training camp, Sears is ready to plow ahead, continue to be a team player and keep up his rigorous routine, this time, with a little more breathing room.

"I just go out there and work hard, that's the way I was raised, you have to work for what you want," he said. "Work is contagious so if I work hard everybody else will work hard."

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