Tim Jamison was undrafted in 2009, has been cut by the Texans three times and had three stints on the practice squad in his first two seasons.
That was then.
This is now. After playing in all 16 games last season as the Texans' top reserve defensive end, Jamison, 26, signed a two-year contract extension on Saturday. He has gone from undrafted to one of the Texans' most underrated players.
"Man, it's an honor that the organization would think of me to give me that opportunity to stay here a couple more years," Jamison said on Thursday. "I just want to keep on grinding and keep on improving. That's my motto: Just keep getting better."
Complacency has not set in with Jamison, nor will it. He didn't look like a player who just got a new contract on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. He had one sack and deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter, both plays resulting in a turnover on downs.
"I started at the bottom," Jamison said. "You never forget about that. You always constantly want to get better. When you've been there, you don't want to go back, so that's my motivation to keep on improving."
Jamison went undrafted despite tallying 20 sacks in four seasons at Michigan. The Texans cut him just before the start of his rookie season, signed him to the practice squad a day later and signed him to the active roster a month later. They cut him again two weeks later, signed him to the practice squad again a day later and signed him to the active roster again nine days later.
In six games as a rookie, Jamison recorded two tackles. A week into his second season, he was cut again. This time, he wasn't signed back to the practice squad for a full six weeks. But he was called up to the active roster a week later, then played in 10 games, starting one and recording 15 tackles and his first-career sack.
Jamison was not released in 2011 – a first in his NFL career. He set career-highs with 19 tackles, 2.0 sacks, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery. He did not have to participate in mini-camp this spring, a distinction reserved each year for about 25 established Texans veterans. He started three games in the preseason because of J.J. Watt's elbow injury. And his play continues to improve, as his effort in Week 1 showed.
"I've been telling people for years, man," Pro Bowl defensive end Antonio Smith said. "Timmy J, everybody thought it was a surprise, but from the moment I saw him, I knew he was going to be a player. He's going to be a great player. The more and more game snaps and game reps he gets, he's going to be one of the top defensive pass rushers in the league."
Smith had a strikingly similar start to his career to Jamison. A fifth-round draft pick in 2004, Smith was cut twice by the Arizona Cardinals and spent parts of his first two seasons on the practice squad. He even had a stint in NFL Europe. He played in two games as a rookie, 11 games in his second season and 16 games in his third.
"That's exactly why I took my eye to (Jamison) early," Smith said. "Soon as he came in, I noticed he had some skills, because he's on that same (path). We've got that same type of grind. He's hungry. He wants to be the best player he can be."
Texans executive vice president/general manager Rick Smith, who also signed quarterback Matt Schaub to a contract extension on Saturday, said it's important to keep players like Jamison in the fold.
"Obviously, you've got to have your star players, but you also need your role players to give significant contributions to your football team," Smith said. "Tim's a guy who has worked himself into being a player and a contributor on our team. Works extremely hard. Our players really, really like him. They respect him because he's come through it the hard way."
One of Jamison's biggest supporters is running back Arian Foster, who also went undrafted in 2009. The two-time Pro Bowler actually spent more time than Jamison on the practice squad as a rookie.
"I'm happy for Tim, because we came in together as walk-ons," Foster said. "We call each other walk-ons. It's just good to see him do well. It's good to see his hard work paying off. He's had a tremendous work ethic. I was right there by his side starting from the ground up, and just to see him blossom into the player he's become, I'm just happy for him.
"We were kind of at the same starting point, the same level, so we were always like, 'Man, when's that next check coming?' But we always worked hard. That's one thing we always kind of saw in each other was each other's work ethic. I've always admired him for that, and it's paying off."