FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Indiana running back Stephen Houston had multiple offers to sign with NFL teams after he went undrafted last weekend. How he chose the New England Patriots shines a spotlight on a sometimes overlooked part of the pre-draft process.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears gets the credit for Houston choosing the Patriots.
“Coach Fears came in and worked me out after my pro day. We kept in touch and I felt the trust and the loyalty, felt comfortable talking to him. We hit it off right off the bat," Houston said Thursday at Gillette Stadium. "I had other choices but I didn’t feel the same way I felt with Coach Fears.”
Fears, one of the unsung members of the Patriots’ coaching staff, enters his 18th season with the franchise and 24th in the NFL. He was the team’s running backs coach in 2008 when another undrafted free agent, Mississippi's BenJarvus Green-Ellis, beat the odds to become a top player with the Patriots.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Houston, who like Green-Ellis is a pounder that takes pride in “getting first downs and getting tough yardage," received a simple message from Fears after the draft.
“He told me, ‘Come in, be humble, be hungry be ready to work,’” Houston relayed. “That’s what I want to do."
Houston finished fourth on Indiana’s all-time rushing list with 25 rushing touchdowns. Last season, he rushed for 753 yards on 112 attempts.
Each year, the Patriots seem to have an undrafted free agent who breaks through and the hard-charging Houston, who reminded this reporter that he hasn’t accomplished anything at this point and has to earn the respect of more experienced players, could be one to watch in 2014.
“You have to love this game to play it,” said Houston, who received $22,500 in guaranteed money from the Patriots, which ranked as the second-highest total among the club’s undrafted players. “I’m proud to be part of the Patriots. This is an elite group and you have to play up to elite status to help the team win, and that’s what I plan on doing.”