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Houston Texans

Texas natives prepare for Super Bowl


Houston-born New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who played at Texas Southern University, is eagerly anticipating his second career Super Bowl.

PHOENIX –Giants cornerback Aaron Ross was raised on Texas football.

At John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas, he became a Friday night legend with his explosive speed and acrobatic interceptions. As an All-American at the University of Texas, Ross helped lead the Longhorns to a national title after the 2005 season and earned the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2006.

Now, Ross, a rookie first-round choice by the New York Giants, is a long way from home. He's getting ready to play in Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

"It's been a big transition," Ross said. "It started with me coming from UT and being around (Oakland Raiders safety) Michael (Huff) and all those guys, seeing them make it to the NFL; then, being around coach (Duane) Akins, who was getting me ready for the NFL with coaching; then, making it to the national championship game, which got me prepared for this type of stage.

"It's been crazy. That 'Super Bowl moment' hasn't hit me yet. I'll have to get back to you after the game."

Ross has a lot on his mind, like trying to get back into the starting rotation. The corner known for his aggressive man-to-man coverage injured his shoulder against the Dallas Cowboys and was forced into a backup role against the Green Bay Packers.

The rookie insisted Tuesday that he is ready to go against New England's talented receiving corps, despite falling ill on the plane before the Giants departed for Phoenix.

"I'm feeling good," Ross said. "I wasn't sick. It was just a pill that I took that didn't agree with my stomach.

"It was one of those 'Airborne' pills. I didn't have the flu."

He also isn't homesick for the Lone Star State. He and the handful of Texas natives taking the field on Sunday have too much on the line.

Defensive end Michael Strahan, who was born in the Houston area and played for Texas Southern University before New York drafted him in 1993, is contemplating retiring after the game.

"Winning the Super Bowl would definitely be a fairy tale ending, but also walking away from the game knowing that people think that you can still do (it) – not walking away when everybody says, 'He used to be a good player,'" Strahan said.

The seven-time Pro Bowler went to the Super Bowl in 2001, a game that ended with a crushing loss to the Baltimore Ravens and no good memories. Strahan wants to take home a feel-good ending this year – that and the photo of himself hanging from a column in the Glendale stadium.

"That (banner in the stadium) says that they love a good, handsome young man because that is a damn good-looking man," said Strahan with his gap-toothed smile. "Look at that poster."

Giants rookie safety Michael Johnson, from Round Rock, Texas, probably won't get any playing time, but taking home a Super Bowl ring would impress his alma mater, Tyler Junior College.

Across the field, three New England Patriots also hail from Texas. Defensive lineman Ty Warren, a Texas A&M product from Bryan, was selected 13th overall by New England in the 2003 draft. This season, Warren finished second on the team in tackles with 83 and led the team in fumbles with three, a single-season career best.

Another former Aggie, guard Billy Yates, grew up in Fort Worth and climbed his way up from the practice squad to the Patriots' active roster in 2005.

Perhaps the Texas transplant getting the most attention in New England is linebacker Larry Izzo. The 12-year veteran, who grew up in Houston and attended Rice University, led the Patriots in special teams tackles seven of his last eight seasons.

His back-cracking blocks and hustle plays have made him a star in coach Bill Belichick's system, and Izzo credits the coach with taking him from a small-time college player to a Super Bowl veteran.

"It's an honor to play for him," Izzo said. "Down the road, to be able to say you played for Bill Belichick is going to be similar to playing for Vince Lombardi or someone like that. He's made me a better player.

"You get to a certain point where you are able to play in the NFL, and he takes you to another level. You see guys that he's taken and developed the younger players and helped them become Pro Bowl players. He helped me with my career."

Izzo's teammate, wide receiver Wes Welker, would agree. Welker, who was born in Oklahoma City, attended Texas Tech and is considered by many to be an adopted Texan.

At 5-9, 185 pounds, the fourth-year pro struggled to get recruited out of high school and then fought for roster spots until this season. Welker led the Patriots in receptions with 112 and racked up 1,175 receiving yards. His effective slot routes have made him the ideal complement to deep-threat receiver Randy Moss.

"Any time you get great receivers like that out there, it takes the pressure off you," Welker said of Moss. "It's not just relying on you. Having other guys in the receiving corps making plays is huge for everybody."

Not only does Welker feel supported by his teammates, he feels at home in New England.

"It was good when I came to New England because I finally felt wanted," Welker said. "It was the first time in my life that had happened. I was excited about it."

Welker still cherishes his glory days as a Red Raider, but he and the other Texas products are focused on playing their best game ever in the biggest game of the year. After all, everything is bigger and better in Texas.

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