KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- It was just a little over a year ago that Texans running back Arian Foster was grinding on Houston's practice squad. Now, the 24-year-old is the AFC's starting running back in the Pro Bowl.
"It's been a long, incredible journey with a few bumps in the road," Foster said after an AFC practice this week. "I am very grateful."
Some of those "bumps in the road" were in the shape of footballs -- on the ground.
Foster, who played at the University of Tennessee from 2005-08, got tagged in college as a player who fumbled at key moments. Perhaps his best-known turnover happened in the 2007 Outback Bowl. With the score tied in the fourth quarter, Foster fumbled in the red zone, and a Penn State player returned it 88 yards for a touchdown. The Vols lost 20-10.
He insists that the tag wasn't entirely earned.
"Back at Tennessee, I fumbled about the same rate that I have in the NFL, but I just caught a bad rap," he said. "The local media [in Tennessee], they like to take shots at me all the time, but that is where it manifested from. I didn't fumble that much at Tennessee."
Foster was undrafted, which makes his success that much more remarkable. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said this week that Foster is a good example of someone who earned a chance to prove himself in the NFL.
Peterson wasn't the only Pro Bowler praising Foster. Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis called him a big, physical back with rare talent. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan says he expects Foster "to perform at a high level in this league for a very long time."
Foster's numbers in the 2010 season turned a few heads. He rushed for a league-high 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also had 66 receptions for 604 yards and two touchdowns. In fantasy terms, he was a retro arcade game.
He had only three fumbles in 327 carries, one every 109 carries, about one fumble every five games. Seven players had more than 300 carries this season. Among those players, Bengals running back Cedric Benson had the most fumbles with seven, while Ravens running back Ray Rice didn't fumble the entire season. Foster's two lost fumbles came in losses to the Cowboys and Jets.
"I think my running style kind of naturally makes the ball get away from my body and I try to work on that, and if you put the ball on the ground in the NFL, you won't be playing too long," he said.
Foster said he does make a point to remind himself in the huddle to protect the ball.
"There are very few times where a defender makes a great hit and it comes out, so usually it is just a lack of focus. I know a lot of times this year before every single play I thought to myself, we are not losing this ball, and you have to be cognizant of it, and once you do that it becomes second nature."
Ben Houser is a Senior Producer for E:60. E:60 is producing a profile story on Texans running back Arian Foster that will air in 2011.