July 13, 2011
Coming out of Tennessee in time for the 2009 NFL draft, running back Arian Foster(notes) apparently didn't impress enough to even get a claim as "Mr. Irrelevant" — he wound up signing with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent and quietly worked his way up the depth chart. Foster didn't get his first NFL regular-season carry until Week 13 of that 2009 campaign, where he rushed for 34 yards in a blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Just a year later … well, we saw what a difference a season can make. In 2010, Foster led the league in — rushing yards (1,616), yards from scrimmage (2,220), touchdowns (18, including two receiving), broken tackles (45), and first downs (89). Not bad for a guy that no team wanted and who's set to make just $480,000 in base salary in 2011. In this exclusive interview, we talked with Foster about his push to the top, what he'd tell this upcoming class of free agents, and how the lockout's been treating him.
Foster also talked about his connection with Subway, which is set up for a very good cause. From the press release:
The SUBWAY® All-Star BBQ event will feature the sandwich chain's new BBQ Pulled Pork sub, available for a limited time only. Sandwich sales from the event will benefit the West Alabama Food Bank (WAFB), a non-profit organization devoted to feeding victims of the recent flood disaster as well as relief workers rebuilding the area that is one of the original homes of BBQ cuisine.
The event marks the launch of the SUBWAY® "Pullin' for a Cause" initiative, a national 'text to donate" campaign benefiting the WAFB whereby consumers who text "FOOD" to 27722 to donate $10. Each donation made through the end of July triggers a matching donation from SUBWAY.
Shutdown Corner: Can you first tell us about the charity initiative you're doing with Subway, and how people can get involved?
Arian Foster: We're putting on a little backyard barbecue for Subway; they're unveiling a new Pulled Pork sandwich, and what's behind it is to donate money to the West Alabama Food Bank. You can donate $10 by texting "FOOD" to 27722, and Subway matches [the donation].
AF: Some offseason workouts; pretty much the same things [as everybody else]; just a lot of training. It's been pretty similar to what I did last offseason, minus the OTAs. So, you just try and substitute that with team workouts as much as possible. But, it's pretty much the same stuff.
SC: Are you getting the sense that we're nearing the end of the lockout?
AF: Oh, I never know, man [laughs]! So, I just kinda keep at it, because I can't control it. My coaches have my phone number, and whenever it's settled, they'll call me, and I'll show up.
SC: As an undrafted free agent, what advice would you impart to this year's undrafted free agents, especially since they're behind the 8-ball from a preparedness perspective?
AF: I remember getting to camp — I had to learn the playbook, and I pretty much had mine down in the first three days after I got there. I had to do a lot of studying when I first got in there — didn't do a lot of checking out the city and all that; just don't get caught up in the hype. Just learn your playbook, focus your study on your craft, and if you really want it, it'll happen eventually. It's going to be tough initially, because you won't have as many opportunities, and the coaches will be rushing everything, wondering who's in shape and who's not in shape. I think the main thing is not making any mental mistakes, and taking advantage of every opportunity.
SC: Going back to your career at Tennessee, you had some very solid numbers, though your collegiate career was affected by some injuries. Why do you think you weren't drafted, and did you hear from any teams after the fact — i.e., "We really should have drafted you"?
AF: I'm not sure, man — I try to stay away from all of that. Anything you can't control, you just let go, and it's not even relevant, really. I had knocks on me for whatever reason, but I've obviously transcended all of them. I'm just looking forward to the future.
SC: How many teams showed an interest, and why did you sign with the Texans?
AF: There were four or five teams calling me — I think the reason I chose the Texans initially was the depth chart. They didn't have a lot on the depth chart at that time, and I felt that I could compete there. Not even necessarily a starting job — I think Steve Slaton(notes) had just come off a good rookie year, so I wasn't thinking that. Initially, everyone wants to be a starter, but I just wanted to get on the roster. It didn't happen right away; seven weeks into the  season, I got on the roster, but when it finally happened, I got an opportunity, and I took advantage of it.
SC: You had 54 carries for 257 yards in your first NFL season, and then you just blew everything up in your second season — led the league in most possible offensive categories. Did you enter the 2010 season anticipating that you'd be that kind of factor? Was it a surprise to you at all?
AF: I wouldn't say it was a surprise to me — I work very hard at what I do, so I expect results. I don't really put a statistical cap on them, so whatever I do, I believe I can do. It wasn't surprising at all.
SC: Tell us a bit about your offensive line, and how you guys all work together. You seem to have that one-cut-and-go style perfectly suited to the Texans' blocking style.
AF: I'll tell you … we work really well as a unit, and Vonta Leach(notes), my fullback, does a great job as well. They're coached to be very meticulous about the details. Repetition is the mother of learning, and they're just really on it about their craft .
SC: After putting up all those great numbers, you're still set to make a relatively low base in 2011, based on your rookie contract. What's your take on the proposed rookie wage scale, and how would you think it best to address guys like you, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice(notes)?
AF: Well, whatever the system's going to be, it's going to be. But do I think they should take some from the rookies? It's not my place to say — whatever they get, they get. But people who are proven in the league should be getting a little more compensation for what they're worth. Absolutely. My opinion is null and void, though, because I don't write any checks [laughs].
SC: The Texans have come so close to the postseason in the last few years, but have fallen short for various reasons — third down and red zone issues which you helped solve, secondary problems, etc. What do you guys have to do to finally take it over the top and make some proverbial postseason noise?
AF: I think as a team, we collectively have to find a way to finish. We were in a lot of games, and that starts with everybody on the team. Pretty much every game we lost, we were in, down to the wire, and the difference between winning and losing is very small.
SC: How does it feel to be nominated for three ESPYs?
AF: It's kind of surreal, you know? I'm sitting in the lobby of the W [Hotel] in Los Angeles right now. Walking around before, seeing athletes I hold in such high esteem, I'm just taking it in and enjoying it.
SC: Do you see yourself as an inspiration to other undrafted guys? Would you like those players to come to you and ask you how you got to where you are?
AF: Well, I think you have to take it out of the context of football. It's what I do, not who I am. I'm very blessed to be able to play this game, but at the end of the day when I hang up my cleats and I'm not going to be able to play this game anymore, I would still like to be somewhat of a shining example for anybody that … it's not about what you want to do in life; it's just about going out and doing it. And I'm walking proof of that. With hard work and a little bit of opportunity, you can make your dreams happen. It sounds clichéd, but everybody's dreams are out there waiting for them — everybody just has to go out and get it.
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