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Texans' Foster is yards from ordinary

By Amy Shipley by Amy Shipley by Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer Washington Post Staff Writer Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; D1

HOUSTON Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

- For a glimpse inside the head of the NFL's leading rusher, you might follow Houston Texans running back Arian Foster to the rooftop of his suburban apartment complex, where he sometimes ascends on a moonlit night to write poetry. There is no patio up there, no chairs. It is, he said, just a roof. The strains of old Chinese music or perhaps Mozart often provide a calming backdrop, flowing through his headphones.

Foster has filled 20 or 30 spiral-bound notebooks with handwritten original poems, short stories and songs. He rolled up 231 yards on 33 carries with three rushing touchdowns in the Texans' upset victory over Indianapolis last Sunday, but he seems just as comfortable discussing the children's book he has in the works as he is with details of the game. He occasionally sits at his locker stall hunched over his notebook or hand-held computer, jotting down lines of verse or random musings.

Despite his startling rise from near-anonymity last year - he was bypassed in the 2009 draft, then relegated to the Texans' practice squad for the first 10 games of last season - Foster comes across to many as something of an anti-jock. His nonconformist tendencies have occasionally rubbed those in the highly regimented world of big-time football the wrong way. They also, perhaps, offer at least a partial explanation for what has been a considerably bumpy ride to becoming Houston's featured back and the league's newest sensation - not to mention a considerable concern for the Washington Redskins in Sunday's meeting at FedEx Field.

His opening-day performance was the best since O.J. Simpson picked up 250 yards in the Buffalo Bills' 1973 opener.

"My brother always used to say the reason people have a hard time with me is they can't pin me," Foster said outside the team's weight room at Reliant Park this past week. "They can't stereotype me. I'm not a jock who does this, this and this. I'm kind of a free spirit in the way I live my life.

"I always stray away from fitting into the football player mold."

Going all in

When Foster arrived in Houston, he had little to say to his new teammates because he didn't know anyone. Some interpreted his silence to be arrogance, others aloofness or nonchalance. After lining up fifth or sixth on the depth chart throughout training camp, he found himself banished to the purgatory of the team's practice squad when the season opened.

"He was a young, immature kid coming out," Houston Coach Gary Kubiak said. "He didn't get drafted, and those guys usually have a chip on their shoulder . . . [we] had to teach him to be a professional worker, a professional in the classroom. It was a big battle for him to make the adjustments he had to make."

Houston General Manager Rick Smith summoned Foster for a private meeting early in the season.

"He's a philosophy major, a thinker," Smith said. "He marches to the beat of his own drummer. A lot of time when you have that personality type, those guys aren't very interested in what people think about them, or they don't care. He had to understand if he was going to function, succeed in this environment and be a part of a team, in some respects those things are important."

Foster wasn't going to blow his chance over misunderstandings. He recalled responding to an elementary school teacher's question about his career choice by saying he would become a professional football player. When she laughed and said, "Well, what else do you want to do?" Foster grew annoyed. That was the only thing he wanted to do.

"I don't want to say I put all of my eggs in the same basket," he said. "But I kind of did."

One of the tattoos on his biceps reads, "Against all odds."

At the University of Tennessee, Foster mulled leaving school before his senior year to enter the NFL draft, where he was projected to go in the second or third round after having amassed nearly 1,200 rushing yards as a junior. Then-Coach Phillip Fulmer persuaded Foster to stay, a decision Foster deeply regretted after being shunted out of a new offensive scheme introduced that year by a new coordinator, and gaining just 570 yards.

"They had other individuals they thought were better-suited to fit their philosophy," his father, Carl Foster, said. "It hurt him. It hurt him dramatically."

Foster and his father said they believed he got labeled that year as a selfish, bad-attitude guy, but Fulmer said he understood Foster's disappointment.

"There were a lot of tough breaks for the young man," he said. "There's a difference between being down and completely out. I think it just made him that much more determined."

From pain to gain

The pain lingered like the hamstring injury he suffered just before the Senior Bowl, which kept him out of that year's NFL Scouting Combine and further damaged his draft profile. On the draft's second day, Foster went out with his father and brother to play 18 holes of golf, but Foster grew so despondent as the rounds passed without a ring from his cellphone that the group ended the outing early.

"What he turned it into was fuel," his brother, Abdul, said. "He turned it into something that motivated him to keep going."

Once the draft ended, Foster's phone began ringing. There was, thankfully, still interest. Concluding that he had the best chance with Houston, Foster signed there. Yet landing on the practice squad rather than the full roster at the end of training camp felt like another punch in the gut.

"I was disappointed," Foster said, "All I know is I didn't make the team."

The perceived slights increased Foster's commitment and opened his eyes. He made sure he was getting to meetings on time. He studied defenses. During the offseason, he got up at 5:30 a.m. for twice-daily workouts with his brother, a personal trainer. "A light finally went off," Kubiak said. "He modified his behavior," Smith said.

The difficulties also fired his pen. He documented his trials in various pieces. Sometimes he would write late into the night, sitting on his bed. He has written songs for the mother of his one-year-old daughter, but he takes exception to being called a rapper.

"Anybody who knows me at all knows I'm a writer," he said. "I write. I'd be crazy if I didn't write, because I have so many thoughts, so many visions."

Texans wide receiver David Anderson occupies a locker next to Foster. He said with a grin that he has seen much of the "goofy stuff" his heady teammate pens. Sometimes, he said, Foster will offer up a few lines of rap for his teammates' review - but only the rap. There are no poetry readings at Reliant Park.

"This is a locker room," Anderson said. "It's not Wharton."

"As far as I can tell, he's got [his writings] everywhere. On his phone, his notebook. He's a creative mind. I don't think he's the next Maya Angelou, but he's definitely talented."

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones said Foster gained full acceptance as soon as he got off the practice squad last year. He picked up 216 yards in two games late in the season against New England and Miami. Injuries to key rivals helped Foster get a shot in training camp this year.

After each of his touchdowns last week, Foster bowed and pressed his hands together, displaying the Hindu "namaste" salutation, signaling his gratitude to have made it in the NFL.

"Hurdles define men in life," Foster said. Last year "was a hurdle. I'm glad it's in the past."

- For a glimpse inside the head of the NFL's leading rusher, you might follow Houston Texans running back Arian Foster to the rooftop of his suburban apartment complex, where he sometimes ascends on a moonlit night to write poetry. There is no patio up there, no chairs. It is, he said, just a roof. The strains of old Chinese music or perhaps Mozart often provide a calming backdrop, flowing through his headphones.

Foster has filled 20 or 30 spiral-bound notebooks with handwritten original poems, short stories and songs. He rolled up 231 yards on 33 carries with three rushing touchdowns in the Texans' upset victory over Indianapolis last Sunday, but he seems just as comfortable discussing the children's book he has in the works as he is with details of the game. He occasionally sits at his locker stall hunched over his notebook or hand-held computer, jotting down lines of verse or random musings.

Despite his startling rise from near-anonymity last year - he was bypassed in the 2009 draft, then relegated to the Texans' practice squad for the first 10 games of last season - Foster comes across to many as something of an anti-jock. His nonconformist tendencies have occasionally rubbed those in the highly regimented world of big-time football the wrong way. They also, perhaps, offer at least a partial explanation for what has been a considerably bumpy ride to becoming Houston's featured back and the league's newest sensation - not to mention a considerable concern for the Washington Redskins in Sunday's meeting at FedEx Field.

His opening-day performance was the best since O.J. Simpson picked up 250 yards in the Buffalo Bills' 1973 opener.

"My brother always used to say the reason people have a hard time with me is they can't pin me," Foster said outside the team's weight room at Reliant Park this past week. "They can't stereotype me. I'm not a jock who does this, this and this. I'm kind of a free spirit in the way I live my life.

"I always stray away from fitting into the football player mold."

Going all in

When Foster arrived in Houston, he had little to say to his new teammates because he didn't know anyone. Some interpreted his silence to be arrogance, others aloofness or nonchalance. After lining up fifth or sixth on the depth chart throughout training camp, he found himself banished to the purgatory of the team's practice squad when the season opened.

"He was a young, immature kid coming out," Houston Coach Gary Kubiak said. "He didn't get drafted, and those guys usually have a chip on their shoulder . . . [we] had to teach him to be a professional worker, a professional in the classroom. It was a big battle for him to make the adjustments he had to make."

Houston General Manager Rick Smith summoned Foster for a private meeting early in the season.

"He's a philosophy major, a thinker," Smith said. "He marches to the beat of his own drummer. A lot of time when you have that personality type, those guys aren't very interested in what people think about them, or they don't care. He had to understand if he was going to function, succeed in this environment and be a part of a team, in some respects those things are important."

Foster wasn't going to blow his chance over misunderstandings. He recalled responding to an elementary school teacher's question about his career choice by saying he would become a professional football player. When she laughed and said, "Well, what else do you want to do?" Foster grew annoyed. That was the only thing he wanted to do.

"I don't want to say I put all of my eggs in the same basket," he said. "But I kind of did."

One of the tattoos on his biceps reads, "Against all odds."

At the University of Tennessee, Foster mulled leaving school before his senior year to enter the NFL draft, where he was projected to go in the second or third round after having amassed nearly 1,200 rushing yards as a junior. Then-Coach Phillip Fulmer persuaded Foster to stay, a decision Foster deeply regretted after being shunted out of a new offensive scheme introduced that year by a new coordinator, and gaining just 570 yards.

"They had other individuals they thought were better-suited to fit their philosophy," his father, Carl Foster, said. "It hurt him. It hurt him dramatically."

Foster and his father said they believed he got labeled that year as a selfish, bad-attitude guy, but Fulmer said he understood Foster's disappointment.

"There were a lot of tough breaks for the young man," he said. "There's a difference between being down and completely out. I think it just made him that much more determined."

From pain to gain

The pain lingered like the hamstring injury he suffered just before the Senior Bowl, which kept him out of that year's NFL Scouting Combine and further damaged his draft profile. On the draft's second day, Foster went out with his father and brother to play 18 holes of golf, but Foster grew so despondent as the rounds passed without a ring from his cellphone that the group ended the outing early.

"What he turned it into was fuel," his brother, Abdul, said. "He turned it into something that motivated him to keep going."

Once the draft ended, Foster's phone began ringing. There was, thankfully, still interest. Concluding that he had the best chance with Houston, Foster signed there. Yet landing on the practice squad rather than the full roster at the end of training camp felt like another punch in the gut.

"I was disappointed," Foster said, "All I know is I didn't make the team."

The perceived slights increased Foster's commitment and opened his eyes. He made sure he was getting to meetings on time. He studied defenses. During the offseason, he got up at 5:30 a.m. for twice-daily workouts with his brother, a personal trainer. "A light finally went off," Kubiak said. "He modified his behavior," Smith said.

The difficulties also fired his pen. He documented his trials in various pieces. Sometimes he would write late into the night, sitting on his bed. He has written songs for the mother of his one-year-old daughter, but he takes exception to being called a rapper.

"Anybody who knows me at all knows I'm a writer," he said. "I write. I'd be crazy if I didn't write, because I have so many thoughts, so many visions."

Texans wide receiver David Anderson occupies a locker next to Foster. He said with a grin that he has seen much of the "goofy stuff" his heady teammate pens. Sometimes, he said, Foster will offer up a few lines of rap for his teammates' review - but only the rap. There are no poetry readings at Reliant Park.

"This is a locker room," Anderson said. "It's not Wharton."

"As far as I can tell, he's got [his writings] everywhere. On his phone, his notebook. He's a creative mind. I don't think he's the next Maya Angelou, but he's definitely talented."

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones said Foster gained full acceptance as soon as he got off the practice squad last year. He picked up 216 yards in two games late in the season against New England and Miami. Injuries to key rivals helped Foster get a shot in training camp this year.

After each of his touchdowns last week, Foster bowed and pressed his hands together, displaying the Hindu "namaste" salutation, signaling his gratitude to have made it in the NFL.

"Hurdles define men in life," Foster said. Last year "was a hurdle. I'm glad it's in the past."

- For a glimpse inside the head of the NFL's leading rusher, you might follow Houston Texans running back Arian Foster to the rooftop of his suburban apartment complex, where he sometimes ascends on a moonlit night to write poetry. There is no patio up there, no chairs. It is, he said, just a roof. The strains of old Chinese music or perhaps Mozart often provide a calming backdrop, flowing through his headphones.

Foster has filled 20 or 30 spiral-bound notebooks with handwritten original poems, short stories and songs. He rolled up 231 yards on 33 carries with three rushing touchdowns in the Texans' upset victory over Indianapolis last Sunday, but he seems just as comfortable discussing the children's book he has in the works as he is with details of the game. He occasionally sits at his locker stall hunched over his notebook or hand-held computer, jotting down lines of verse or random musings.

Despite his startling rise from near-anonymity last year - he was bypassed in the 2009 draft, then relegated to the Texans' practice squad for the first 10 games of last season - Foster comes across to many as something of an anti-jock. His nonconformist tendencies have occasionally rubbed those in the highly regimented world of big-time football the wrong way. They also, perhaps, offer at least a partial explanation for what has been a considerably bumpy ride to becoming Houston's featured back and the league's newest sensation - not to mention a considerable concern for the Washington Redskins in Sunday's meeting at FedEx Field.

His opening-day performance was the best since O.J. Simpson picked up 250 yards in the Buffalo Bills' 1973 opener.

"My brother always used to say the reason people have a hard time with me is they can't pin me," Foster said outside the team's weight room at Reliant Park this past week. "They can't stereotype me. I'm not a jock who does this, this and this. I'm kind of a free spirit in the way I live my life.

"I always stray away from fitting into the football player mold."

Going all in

When Foster arrived in Houston, he had little to say to his new teammates because he didn't know anyone. Some interpreted his silence to be arrogance, others aloofness or nonchalance. After lining up fifth or sixth on the depth chart throughout training camp, he found himself banished to the purgatory of the team's practice squad when the season opened.

"He was a young, immature kid coming out," Houston Coach Gary Kubiak said. "He didn't get drafted, and those guys usually have a chip on their shoulder . . . [we] had to teach him to be a professional worker, a professional in the classroom. It was a big battle for him to make the adjustments he had to make."

Houston General Manager Rick Smith summoned Foster for a private meeting early in the season.

"He's a philosophy major, a thinker," Smith said. "He marches to the beat of his own drummer. A lot of time when you have that personality type, those guys aren't very interested in what people think about them, or they don't care. He had to understand if he was going to function, succeed in this environment and be a part of a team, in some respects those things are important."

Foster wasn't going to blow his chance over misunderstandings. He recalled responding to an elementary school teacher's question about his career choice by saying he would become a professional football player. When she laughed and said, "Well, what else do you want to do?" Foster grew annoyed. That was the only thing he wanted to do.

"I don't want to say I put all of my eggs in the same basket," he said. "But I kind of did."

One of the tattoos on his biceps reads, "Against all odds."

At the University of Tennessee, Foster mulled leaving school before his senior year to enter the NFL draft, where he was projected to go in the second or third round after having amassed nearly 1,200 rushing yards as a junior. Then-Coach Phillip Fulmer persuaded Foster to stay, a decision Foster deeply regretted after being shunted out of a new offensive scheme introduced that year by a new coordinator, and gaining just 570 yards.

"They had other individuals they thought were better-suited to fit their philosophy," his father, Carl Foster, said. "It hurt him. It hurt him dramatically."

Foster and his father said they believed he got labeled that year as a selfish, bad-attitude guy, but Fulmer said he understood Foster's disappointment.

"There were a lot of tough breaks for the young man," he said. "There's a difference between being down and completely out. I think it just made him that much more determined."

From pain to gain

The pain lingered like the hamstring injury he suffered just before the Senior Bowl, which kept him out of that year's NFL Scouting Combine and further damaged his draft profile. On the draft's second day, Foster went out with his father and brother to play 18 holes of golf, but Foster grew so despondent as the rounds passed without a ring from his cellphone that the group ended the outing early.

"What he turned it into was fuel," his brother, Abdul, said. "He turned it into something that motivated him to keep going."

Once the draft ended, Foster's phone began ringing. There was, thankfully, still interest. Concluding that he had the best chance with Houston, Foster signed there. Yet landing on the practice squad rather than the full roster at the end of training camp felt like another punch in the gut.

"I was disappointed," Foster said, "All I know is I didn't make the team."

The perceived slights increased Foster's commitment and opened his eyes. He made sure he was getting to meetings on time. He studied defenses. During the offseason, he got up at 5:30 a.m. for twice-daily workouts with his brother, a personal trainer. "A light finally went off," Kubiak said. "He modified his behavior," Smith said.

The difficulties also fired his pen. He documented his trials in various pieces. Sometimes he would write late into the night, sitting on his bed. He has written songs for the mother of his one-year-old daughter, but he takes exception to being called a rapper.

"Anybody who knows me at all knows I'm a writer," he said. "I write. I'd be crazy if I didn't write, because I have so many thoughts, so many visions."

Texans wide receiver David Anderson occupies a locker next to Foster. He said with a grin that he has seen much of the "goofy stuff" his heady teammate pens. Sometimes, he said, Foster will offer up a few lines of rap for his teammates' review - but only the rap. There are no poetry readings at Reliant Park.

"This is a locker room," Anderson said. "It's not Wharton."

"As far as I can tell, he's got [his writings] everywhere. On his phone, his notebook. He's a creative mind. I don't think he's the next Maya Angelou, but he's definitely talented."

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones said Foster gained full acceptance as soon as he got off the practice squad last year. He picked up 216 yards in two games late in the season against New England and Miami. Injuries to key rivals helped Foster get a shot in training camp this year.

After each of his touchdowns last week, Foster bowed and pressed his hands together, displaying the Hindu "namaste" salutation, signaling his gratitude to have made it in the NFL.

"Hurdles define men in life," Foster said. Last year "was a hurdle. I'm glad it's in the past."

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