By the time the Texans announced their cuts on Friday, Trindon Holliday's inclusion on the 53-man roster was a foregone conclusion.
Holliday returned three kicks for touchdowns in four preseason games, averaging 39.9 yards per kickoff return and 21.1 yards per punt return along the way. It was no surprise that his name was not among the 21 cuts announced by the team on Friday afternoon.
"What he did throughout the course of this preseason was exceptional," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "His spot on this team was well-earned."
Holliday – all 5-5, 169 pounds of him – is the first pure return specialist to earn a spot on the Texans' roster since Jerome Mathis in 2007. There hasn't been room for a player like him under Kubiak in the last four seasons. But that's because there hasn't been a player on the team like him.
"The fact that he's so small, a little dynamite, and he's so fast, you can't see him coming," said Texans safety Danieal Manning, who ranks second in the NFL since 2006 with 26.9 yards per kickoff return. "By the time you see him, he's by you. And he's a tough guy, a competitor. Just to see him returning, for years, he's been wanting that to happen. He's got his chance."
A sixth-round draft pick out of LSU in 2010, Holliday missed his rookie season with a thumb injury. He spent most of his second season on the Texans' practice squad. After the Texans added wide receiver Keshawn Martin, an All-Big Ten kick returner, in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, most observers assumed Holliday was a goner.
Instead, Holliday became a "SportsCenter" regular for all the right reasons. He scored on a 90-yard kickoff return at Carolina the first time he touched the ball this preseason. A week later, he returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown against San Francisco. In the preseason finale on Thursday, Holliday scored yet again on a 76-yard punt return against Minnesota.
Even in his worst game, a two-fumble performance at New Orleans on Aug. 25, Holliday had a 62-yard kickoff return. Six of his nine kickoff returns this preseason went for at least 33 yards.
"The thing about him is, for a little guy, he's violent downhill," Kubiak said. "When he runs the ball, he's fearless. It's been so impressive. I told him in front of the team (Wednesday) night it was a big night for him. He had to continue to do it; he had to protect the ball. Then he steps up there and does it again."
Pressure is nothing new for Holliday. A two-sport national champion in college, he returned four kicks for touchdowns in his LSU career and helped the Tigers win the 2007 BCS National Championship. He also won the NCAA 100-meter sprint title in 2009 with a time of 10.00 seconds.
"He's been there, he's very confident, and he can really make an impact, the right impact that we need for his team," said Texans linebacker Bradie James, a fellow LSU alumnus who has watched and known Holliday for years. "It's tough to be a returner in the league because you've got 11 hungry guys out there really trying to knock your head off and you've got to look up at the ball, catch it and then run away from him. So you have to be fast, and he does it so well. And he's tough. That's the other thing people don't realize. Usually, a fast guy, you can just push him down. He actually breaks tackles. And that's one thing and I've been seeing for a long time."
Holliday made the Texans' roster as a returner, and a special one at that. But Kubiak hinted there might be even more in store for the little dynamite that could.
"Trindon's a lot better football player than he was the last two years," Kubiak said. "Trindon can go play on the offensive side of the ball. He does know what we're doing from that standpoint. I did not play him at receiver much (in the preseason) because of the young guys I have. Trindon can play gunner for us. I think he's a much more complete player as far as us finding ways to use him as a player."
Watch out, NFL. Here he comes.