Foster said one thing had to be different.
"We have to up our play," he said.
That the 6'1", 229-pound Foster has come to represent the Texans' spirit and grit could not have been foreseen during his rookie season in '09, when he languished on the practice squad "getting beat, getting yelled at and getting screamed at," in the words of running backs coach Chick Harris. "There were growing pains."
The unsteady climb mirrored Foster's youth. He grew up in Albuquerque but moved to San Diego during high school to live with his father, Carl, following his parents' divorce. "He asked me, 'Dad, will you train me?' and I said on one condition: You do everything I say," says Carl, a former wide receiver at New Mexico. At dawn before school or at dusk following high school practices, Foster and his father would go to San Diego's Pacific Beach and run the dunes.
"There is something very calming about being out on the beach early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and being there with your son," Carl says. "When you put in that kind of time and effort, there is a spiritual aspect that has to take place inside of you as an athlete. I watched him grow in his demeanor and responsibility. He had an attitude that he wasn't going to quit."
Says Arian, "I still remember my dad saying, 'If you want to be great, you have to do things when nobody's looking.' I carry that to this day."
Foster says he could have embraced that mantra better at Tennessee, where he followed a 1,193-yard junior season with 570 yards as a senior, a fact relating both to injury and to a diminished role in the offense. "The only regret I have about college is not taking care of my body the way I did [in high school] and the way I do now," Foster says. "If you watch my college film and you watch my film now, I'm a totally different player."
Despite his son's unfulfilling senior season, Carl threw Foster a draft party in Phoenix, where Carl had moved, believing his son had done enough to get selected. "I was managing some hotels, and all of the families flew in and we had this big shebang," Carl says. "I had golf passes. We had tickets for Diamondbacks games. We had a great weekend, and the draft was to be the ending to a great weekend." Arian's name was never called. Says Carl, "It was kind of a nightmare."
Harris, the running backs coach, laughs when he reflects on Foster's journey from obscurity on the practice squad to the NFL's leading rusher in 2010 and great hope of fantasy football players everywhere (a status that, judging from his tweets, Foster himself wouldn't mind relinquishing). While Harris treasures Foster's skill set—the vision, the ability to burst through a hole, drop his hips and change direction—the coach knows there are many layers to his feature back. "He's always searching for other things, looking into various angles and philosophical beliefs," Harris says. "He's the first guy to raise his hand to ask why, and if it doesn't make sense to him, I'm the first one to hear about it."
Says veteran receiver Derrick Mason, "Arian's one of those eclectic guys that you can go to and have a good conversation without having to talk about sports."