CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Trindon Holliday has always had game-breaking speed.
He finally got a chance to show it.
On the Texans' first kickoff return of the 2012 preseason, Holliday (5-5, 169) raced 90 yards for a touchdown through the Carolina Panthers' coverage unit at Bank of America Stadium. He finished the preseason opener with three kickoff returns for 159 yards (53.0 average) and three punt returns for 23 yards.
Holliday didn't play a single snap on offense, but if he continues to return kicks like he did on Saturday night, it won't matter.
"If Trindon's going to make this team, he's going to have to be a special returner, and we're going to give him every chance to do that," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said after the game. "Tonight, he had one hell of a start. He was not only excellent on the big play, but I thought he was very good on all the others ones, too. That could be huge for our team. If's he's going to be with us, that's the most important thing."
A sixth-round draft pick out of LSU in 2010, Holliday was brought in to be a return specialist, a difference-maker on special teams who could flip field position on a weekly basis.
Instead, he missed his entire rookie season because of a thumb injury suffered in the preseason. He was cut before the start of last season and spent the year on and off of the Texans' practice squad. He was on the Texans' active roster for a total of one game in his first two NFL seasons.
No surprise, then, that Holliday couldn't help but smile when asked about his big touchdown on Saturday in the postgame locker room.
"It was very special," Holliday said. "It's a long time coming. I've been waiting on that one. My guys gave me a lot of blocking; I just seen one seam and I just hit it and it opened up."
On the touchdown, Holliday fielded the kick at the 10, bounced it out to the right, followed his blocks and cut left past Panthers kicker Justin Medlock at the Houston 40-yard line. He weaved back to his right and turned on the jets, outrunning any would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone.
"He's got wheels," said tight end Garrett Graham, a member of Holliday's draft class. "He showed it tonight. Trindon can definitely be explosive in the return game."
Holliday has been clocked in the 4.2s in the 40-yard dash. He won the NCAA 100-meter sprint title in 2009 with a time of 10.00 seconds, the fourth-best time in the world that year and the fastest time in history for a college football player at the time.
He was an eight-time All-American in track and field at LSU. At Northeast High School in Zachary, La., he posted the nation's fastest indoor times in the 55 and 60-meter dash in 2005. He was a four-time Louisiana state champion in the 200 meters and three-time state champion in the 100 meters. He also was second in his high school state meet in the long jump.
On the football field, Holliday averaged 24.7 yards per kickoff return and 15.0 yards per punt return in four seasons at LSU. He returned four kicks for touchdowns in his career.
Saturday night offered a glimpse at all that talent, but Texans special teams coordinator Joe Marciano still wants to see more.
"I thought he could've played a little cleaner," Marciano said on Saturday. "I thought he could've made a better decision fair catch. On one of the punt returns, I thought we had a cutback. On one of the kick returns, looked like he should've stayed with the point of attack. Until I see the tape, I could be wrong, but that's what I saw. I see a young talent with a lot of room to grow. Let's not anoint him yet; he's got a long way to go."
It should be noted that Marciano did smile a minute later when asked about Holliday's speed.
"I saw it in college," he said. "I can coach fast guys."
Holliday knows that one game does not a spot on the roster make. He's determined to show that Saturday was no fluke.
"It all starts and finishes with consistency," he said. "I've got to be consistent in what I do and just come out, work hard and continue to build off of this.
"It's been very hard (the last two seasons), but I just have to stay positive. Just have to stay positive with a positive mindset and come out every year and just work hard, and I think this'll be a special year for me."