Rookie quarterback Jared Zabransky has been reliving the past since he began his first NFL training camp. The former Boise State quarterback became America's college football hero when his undefeated team came from behind to beat favored Oklahoma 43-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Zabransky's gutsy moves earned him the cover of the Madden College Football video game and two ESPY awards, including game of the year. Zabransky couldn't live seem to live down the hype.
That was until his new team, the Houston Texans, faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night in the final game of the preseason. The game was Zabransky's first true professional test in the pocket, and the rookie quickly found that running the Statue of Liberty wasn't in the cards quite yet.
"It's been such a long time since I'd actually played football," Zabransky said. "I started thinking about that, it'd been eight months since I'd been hit. So I just took a little while to get comfortable, but once my comfort level started getting to where it usually is, I felt pretty good."
Right off the bat, Zabransky threw an interception, but he didn't let the pick rattle him.
"I knew not to get down on myself, there were three quarters left, and my teammates were with me and there was definitely a lot of football left," Zabransky said. "So all I had to do was stay focused and go one play at a time and just stay in there."
The quarterback did just that. He drove his team down the field, setting up a Kris Brown field goal before the half. And in the second half, the rookie found his grove. Zabransky helped running back Wali Lundy earn a touchdown and the quarterback finished the game with 117 passing yards.
That number would have been higher if a deep ball to Lundy hadn't been called back or if an almost-touchdown pass didn't slip through the hands of Keenan McCardell.
After the game, Zabransky didn't dwell on what could have been. Instead, he listened to head coach Gary Kubiak's constructive feedback.
"I see a tough-minded kid," Kubiak said. "His first play in the NFL he throws an interception, but he comes back and battle all night and gave us a chance to make some plays. We didn't protect him too good early, but that's the NFL. I think the kid has shown that he can play this game."
Zabranksy's fate now rests in the hands of Kubiak and Texans general manager Rick Smith. Kubiak has favored carrying only two quarterbacks on his roster.
Still, Zabransky hopes he gets to stay in Houston, if even on the practice squad. And, once again, is trying to focus on improving one play at a time.
"My coaches have done a great job in teaching me how to be patient at times and where to go with the football and introducing me to the NFL game," Zabransky said.