EDITOR'S NOTE: This offseason, HoustonTexans.com will continue its feature series on former Texans to find out what they're up to in their post-NFL lives. Below is the sixth installment of our "Where are they now?" series.
Former Texans safety Matt Stevens was known as a scrappy, opportunistic defender during his eight-year career in the National Football League. As a third-round pick by the Buffalo Bills out of Division I-AA Appalachian State in 1996, Stevens had two interceptions and broke up nine passes as a rookie.
He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998 before joining the Washington Redskins in 2000 and the New England Patriots in 2001. Stevens became part of Texans' history on Feb. 18, 2002, when Charley Casserly, his former general manager with the Redskins, made him the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Expansion Draft.
The moment left an indelible mark on Stevens, who became the Texans' starting free safety alongside Marcus Coleman.
"It was a good feeling to be a part of a team who wanted you in their beginning, their birth," Stevens said via phone from his home in Philadelphia. "You can't argue with that…They thought that I could help them and be a part of a winning franchise."
While Stevens played with a chip on his shoulder, his off-field persona was far different. Every year in the Reliant Stadium cafeteria, the team participates in the BEARing Gifts program by decorating a Christmas tree with gift wishes from children under the care of Harris County Protective Services. Stevens often would take every ornament off the tree and buy presents to fulfill the kids' holiday wish lists.
Stevens spent two seasons in Houston, finishing with 83 tackles and two interceptions in 28 games before he was released in February 2004.
Four years removed from his playing days and working as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Stevens' life took a permanent and tragic turn.
On March 17, 2007, Stevens was speeding past 80 miles per hour on his motorcycle when he hit a patch of gravel. The back wheel slid and the bike whipped around, throwing Stevens into a speed limit sign that broke in half upon impact with Stevens' back.
The accident ripped Stevens' spinal cord in half, and he eventually was transported to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia. After seven months of recovery, he was discharged in October 2007 with a complete T-6, which means he had a total loss of function and sensation below the affected vertebrae.
"I can move my arms, my chest, my upper back and my head and that's it," he said. "So there's no chance of me walking, feeling, moving again, unless science comes up with some major new breakthrough."
Stevens credits family for getting him through the tough times.
"I have a girl who loves me and I have two kids," he said. "The reason I subconsciously made it through the accident when I was in a coma is due to my kids."
Stevens' daily life is full of obstacles, but he tries to make the best out of his situation despite being confined to a wheelchair. He has a bad shoulder from a fall that injured his labrum.
"It's very hard for me to get around," he said. "I can drive with hand controls. I have basically, on average, two doctors appointments per week, and they assess my progress.
"Whatever I can do, I'm trying to do at the gym just to try to keep my strength up."
Words of encouragement from former teammates have helped Stevens maintain a positive outlook. He stays in touch with friends like Mike Vrabel (Chiefs), Larry Izzo (Jets) and Brian Dawkins (Broncos), as well as several players from his days with the Texans.
"I talked to Seth (Payne) not too long ago," Stevens said. "Actually, Jamie Sharper visited me in the hospital when I was there. Troy Evans, Aaron Glenn, Jason Bell, Marcus Coleman - I've talked to all of them. They all try to give me the positive attitude to keep your lip up when it's kind of hard to keep your lip up when you can't do anything. It's just a day-by-day fight. It's what it is."
Stevens also stays in contact with Texans vice president of security Ryan Reichert and tries to keep updated on the team as much as possible. He's a big fan of coach Gary Kubiak and believes the Texans are on the brink of the playoffs.
"I think it helps that they have a coach that has played in the NFL," Stevens said. "I don't see them taking too much longer to get in the playoffs and become an actual contender. It's a good situation down there. They're making strides to do things the right way like a winning franchise."
When it comes to his time in Houston, Stevens has fond memories. He'll never forget the 19-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys in the 2002 regular season opener.
"Basically, after we scrimmaged (Dallas) at the University of Houston, they thought that they ran all over us and they thought it was going to be no problem," Stevens said. "I remember a quote from the paper where Emmitt Smith said, 'We're going to be able to run all over them,' to their head coach. The fact is that they didn't run all over us and then we kicked their (tails). That was a good feeling."
A sell-out crowd of 69,604 fans witnessed the victory, which was broadcast nationally on ESPN Sunday Night Football.
"The crowd was great," Stevens said. "That helps. I don't think they (fans) realize how much they help the players when they yell and scream and get into it…Just to hear them yell and scream and back us up, it's really a good feeling and it really helps players out."
Stevens says the best defensive performance he ever was a part of came in the Texans' 24-6 win at Pittsburgh on Dec. 8, 2002. Houston's offense accounted for 47 total net yards and a field goal, while the defense forced five turnovers and scored three touchdowns.
"That was one of the all-time lows for our offense and one of the all-time highs for our defense," he said.
Football still holds a special place in Stevens' heart. He followed his passion into the coaching ranks before the accident and won't let his disability stop him now. He helped the Temple coaching staff last year, when the Owls went 9-3 and made a postseason appearance at the EagleBank Bowl.
Right now, though, he's awaiting a clinical trial with ReWalk, an exoskeleton device that helps paraplegics to stand and walk upright. The apparatus could radically change his quality of life.
"That (trial) will go on for two months and hopefully I'll be part of their second trial and hopefully I'll be able to bring one home so I can walk," he said. "My father sent me an article, and then my fiancée called (the company) and was very persistent. She can get things done that you would not believe. That was done and I start that in about a month."
In the meantime, Stevens remains upbeat and hopeful. He passes along his best wishes to Texans fans and says his accident has forced him to look at football differently.
"I'm alright," he said. "I wish only the best for the Texans and winning seasons and hopefully playoffs and a Super Bowl to come.
"Football is just a game. It paid my way, but the important things are family and being around people who love you and want to take care of you."
"Where are they now?" Archive