Draft weekend is one of the most emotional weekends that any future NFL player can experience. When that call comes in from the 832 area code, it's a life changing moment.
"Hello, this is Rick Smith, how do you feel about being a Texan?"
I'm sure executive Vice President and General Manager Rick Smith varies up what he says to each and every draft pick, but when that call comes, the players probably don't even care. They're on an emotional high that typically produces tears and cheers, yells and screams from their own draft party. It's a moment only the select few get to experience. For this group of draft picks, though, that call might have been even sweeter given the adversity many of them faced in their lives.
It starts with first round pick Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. He was a record setting quarterback in the state of Georgia, one of the best states in the country for high school football. He also grew up in government-subsidized housing projects at 815 Harrison Square in Gainesville, Georgia. Immediately after his name was called, he walked up on stage and opened his jacket to show the numbers "815". That was a reminder of the hard times he, his mother and siblings experienced before his family moved into a home provided for by Habitat for Humanity when he was 11. A few years after moving in, his mother Deann was diagnosed with cancer. Ever the warrior, she fought and won while Deshaun set all those records at Gainesville High School.
Think that wasn't a special moment when he heard his name called?
In 2016, Texas running back D'Onta Foreman was awarded the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back. During the 2016 season, he ran for over 2,000 yards and was brilliant in a difficult year for the Longhorns. Shortly after a win over Notre Dame to start the season, though, his infant son was born premature. He weighed less than a pound and fought for weeks before passing away in November. Imagine what went through Foreman's mind when the team less than 40 miles from his home called saying he was going to be a Texan.
Oregon State is about as far from Covington, LA as any Division I school could be, but for Treston Decoud it was near utopia for his final two years in college. Decoud was a magnificent player in high school, but his grades kept him from attending one of many FBS schools that desired his presence. He wound up at Chadron State in Nebraska, a Division II school. During his second season, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He returned home and participated in spring practice with Nicholls State but he wasn't granted eligibility. So, he transferred to Northwest Mississippi CC and became a JUCO All-American. After a stellar sophomore season, Oregon State offered him a scholarship as his mother defeated cancer. Even with the deck stacked against him, Decoud heard his name called on draft weekend.
Fourth round selection Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, who had been roommates with current Texans defensive lineman D.J. Reader at Clemson, survived a one car crash in his freshman season. Watkins was a passenger in the car and trapped for two hours, while one of his close friends passed just a few feet away from him. He suffered numerous injuries and emotional pain and guilt from losing his friend and it was a long road back. Three years later, though, he was a co-captain on Clemson's first national championship team in 35 years.
Each and every Sunday we step into NRG Stadium and cheer for our Texans. They're our guys, right? They wear our colors. They represent our city. When you know the story behind the jersey and helmet, it makes you want to cheer that much more for these men.
Tom Savage working construction before going to Pitt for his senior season.
J.J. Watt delivering pizzas to earn money to go to Wisconsin.
D.J. Reader dealing with his father's passing prior to his senior season at Clemson.
There are some special individuals in that locker room that have come together to win two consecutive division championships. This rookie class faced its share of adversity along the way and will make you want to be in NRG Stadium to cheer for them in the exact same manner.
The 2017 Houston Texans wait list closes this Friday, May 12. Click to register for the wait list here.