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'Cerebral' Houston RB Arian Foster goes from undrafted to unstoppable

Meet Arian Foster, the NFL's newest overnight success.

An undrafted rookie a year ago, he grabbed the spotlight last weekend when he ran for 231 yards and three touchdowns in the Houston Texans' 34-24 eye-opening win over Indianapolis. His rushing total was a franchise record and the second highest on the NFL's first weekend since 1933.

If Foster has found a home with Houston, it's taken him some time. But the second-year player is all about journeys and becoming a starting running back for an NFL team has been worth the wait — and the effort.

"I understand that it's rare in this league to go undrafted and perform at the level that I did," Foster said. "What people don't understand is that it didn't just happen. I worked day and night at my craft.

"I have a plan in everything that I do," he said. "I don't think anything will just happen. The universe will throw somebody a bone every now and then, and you win the lottery. But for the most part, you get in this life what you put in."

If that doesn't sound like your typical professional athlete quote, you're right. Foster is not your typical athlete.

He studied philosophy at Tennessee, where he finished his four-year career as the school's second all-time rusher. His name means "water bearer, holder of knowledge," he's written poetry since childhood and has a fascination for foreign cultures.

Each time he scored against the Colts, Foster clasped his hands palm-to-palm and bowed to the cheering fans. The gesture, like most things in Foster's life, carried a symbolic meaning.

"I feel like every running back should have their own little stamp on the game," Foster said. "Mine kind of stems from just the core of what I believe. It's a Hindu greeting, and it just means, 'I see the God in you.' It's paying respect to the game of football."

This is all music to the ears of Texans coaches, who love having a strong running game to complement quarterback Matt Schaub and Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson.

Foster grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and set the NFL as his goal at an early age, despite his father's opposition. Carl Foster played at New Mexico and tried out for the Denver Broncos in the early 1980s. The boys' mother, Bernadette Sizemore, swayed Carl, and Arian began playing football when he was 7.

He proudly told people that he would play in the NFL some day, but one of his teachers laughed him off and asked what else he wanted to do. Later, high school coaches told him that he wasn't good enough to play running back, so they were moving him to the defensive side.

"They told us he was never going to make it," Carl Foster said. "We had just about had enough of that kind of talk."

Foster's parents divorced, and Arian moved to San Diego with his father. Arian enrolled at Mission Bay High School and asked his father to train him.

Carl Foster said Arian ran about two miles a day on the beach, up and down dunes, and the regimen paid off. As a high school senior, Foster rushed for 2,093 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

He had not only found his football niche, he was also more emotionally settled in San Diego.

"I don't know what the difference is, but when you tell people there what you want to do they will kind of look at you sideways — but they believe it more," he said. "It wasn't like I needed the consent, it just felt good when you have people behind you and I respect that."

Carl Foster said Arian chose Tennessee because he developed a close bond with former Vols' assistant Trooper Taylor. Arian initially continued his success from San Diego in Knoxville, rushing for 223 yards in a game as a freshman and amassing 1,193 yards as a junior.

The program was unraveling by 2008, with coach Phil Fulmer on his way out and presiding over a splintered staff. Foster, working with his third offensive coordinator in four years, rushed for only 570 yards and kept his mouth shut during his senior season.

Coaches and the media said Foster had a bad attitude, but Carl Foster said his son was misunderstood.

"There was no real true leadership down there," Carl Foster said. "Arian felt like the best thing he could do is get out of the way and just really just be to himself. The problem was, everybody else, including the media, saw this as a guy who was arrogant."

The rap seemed to stick with Foster while he aimed toward the NFL. To make matters worse, he pulled a hamstring in the final practice before the Senior Bowl, couldn't recover in time for the NFL combine and then performed poorly in a workout for pro scouts.

He waited at his father's home in Arizona for word that he'd been drafted. But the call never came, and Foster figured his boyhood dream was shattered.

"I'll be lying if I said that didn't cross my mind," Foster said. "I knew that if you didn't get drafted, you didn't get drafted and that was it."

His girlfriend, Romina, immediately went to the Internet and started sizing up NFL depth charts to see if Foster might still have a shot somewhere. The Texans, as it turned out, were interested in Foster and signed him in May 2009.

He was relegated to the practice squad after training camp, another disappointment. Looking back now, Foster said that might've been the best fate he could've received.

The condescending looks he got from veterans fueled Foster every day at practice and he was soon catching the coaches' attention. Foster moved off the practice squad in November. He rushed for 97 yards in the second-to-last game against Miami, then ran for 119 yards in the season finale against New England.

"Doing that practice squad stuff, he had to learn how to train our way," running backs coach Chick Harris said. "All of that built up to where is today. It was no-nonsense about what he had to do, and he got it grooved in his head of what the coaching staff wanted. He's living proof that if you do the right things, you can be successful."

Foster easily won the starting job in training camp this year, and already feels like a seasoned veteran after only two starts — and one spectacular game.

"I think that stems from just knowing the game of football," he said. "I like to think of myself as a cerebral player. I had different offensive coordinators in college and every time I learn a different offense, I like to learn the whole concept.

"I like to learn the 'why' I was doing what I was doing instead of being a drone out there," he said. "I think that slowed the game down eventually for me."