Commentary

Arian Foster makes his own way

Houston running back has the ability and charisma to be a superstar

Updated: October 25, 2011, 11:06 AM ET
By Ben Houser | E:60

Randy Moss is quasi-retired. Terrell Owens isn't on a roster anymore. Chad Ochocinco -- as a New England Patriot -- is reserved. Who is the next NFL package of personality, pizzazz and production?

Enter Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. The 25-year-old standout in his third season has the ability and charisma to be a star. Make that a superstar.

He is frequently on Twitter, at times to his own detriment. He doesn't play fantasy football but battles with his fans on the subject. He is smart with a keen sense of humor. He is outspoken, yet quietly bows following his touchdowns showing respect for the game.

"I fell in love with this game. I fell in love with the running back position and the greats that have done it before me. I love Barry Sanders. I love Walter Payton. I love Jim Brown. I think one of the greatest running backs of all time that rarely gets mentioned is Eric Dickerson," Foster said. "I still get inspired watching some of the guys in the NFL today -- Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jamaal Charles. I'm still a fan of the position so I watch other guys and I enjoy how they play the game. I'm still a fan."

Behind Peterson, Foster is arguably the most talented running back in professional football.

Foster was born in 1986. He was raised in a multicultural family in Albuquerque, N.M. He is the youngest of three children, with an older brother and older sister. His father is African-American and his mother is Mexican-American. It was his father who chose Arian's name.

"It means water bearer, holder of knowledge, and it comes from Aquarius or Aquarian," his father, Carl Foster, said. "We felt that he was an individual that would do something different with his life, possibly bring something new in. He's always kind of been that way and the name kind of fits him."

In the 1970s, Carl Foster played wide receiver at the University of New Mexico. Surprisingly, it wasn't his father who pushed Arian to play football.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Brett Davis/US PresswireArian Foster had 22 carries for 68 yards and caught five passes for a career-high 116 yards in Houston's loss to Oakland on Sunday in Week 5.

"I think football showed up for Arian … when he came out the womb, because I didn't really want him to play," Carl said.

Carl had a tryout with the Denver Broncos, but it didn't work out.

"It was actually their mother that came to me one day and said, 'Hey look, your boys want to play football,' and I was totally against it," Carl recalled.

"When they got of that age -- 7, 8 years old -- I wanted them to play sports," said his mother, Bernadette Sizemore. "I actually went down and I enrolled them in the YAFL football that we have in Albuquerque and I got them started."

It didn't take long to have an impact on Arian. By the time he reached middle school he knew what he wanted to do. Arian vividly remembers a teacher from seventh grade that doubted him.

"We had this little session in our class and they said, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' And kids were giving answers like doctor, like lawyer, veterinarian. And I said, 'I want to play in the NFL.' Then I remember the teacher said, 'Well, you know, what else do you want to do?'"

Foster said that teacher was the first of many people who questioned his dream. "I don't remember her name," he said. He also didn't accept her response. This summer Foster returned to a high school and spoke to a large group of eighth graders. He spoke from the heart, with conviction, and perhaps no filter.

"Don't listen to adults," Foster recalled telling the group.

It was his way of advising the soon-to-be high school students to follow their dreams. Foster said he has fond memories and the small town mentality of Albuquerque, the biggest city in the state, despite the struggles he endured.

"I love, I love my city. I love my city to death," he said. "It was rough on us growing up in the beginning. We were like any other lower-middle-class family. I remember one time … we didn't have money for food that night … so my mother takes her wedding ring and she pawns it. I think she got $30 or $40 for it and she feeds us off of that just to get by. I'm forever indebted to that woman for acts like that. … I had to be around 8 or 9 years old when my mother sold her ring."

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Jerome Miron/US PresswireTexans running back Arian Foster spent the early part of the season on the sideline because of injury.

"There were a lot of hard times," his mother recalled. "We didn't have a lot of money back then, and so there was a lot of struggle. When the kids were little they used to have to share clothes because we just didn't have enough money to buy everybody everything. We hardly ever got toys because we just couldn't afford it. I mean the money that we had went to food and some clothing and keeping a roof over our head."

In addition to the financial challenges growing up, Foster said there was tension growing up in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood created tension.

"I remember having an identity crisis and always swaying back and forth on what crowd should I be a part of … because most of my friends were Mexican," he said. "I've gotten called a n----- so many times, I mean I had so many fights in middle school and in elementary just because of that. … I didn't handle every situation the way I should have growing up, but I think that we should be more open about race in this country. I never talked about it in school. "

Foster's older brother, Abdul, said that at times the family was "alone." "We were never really black enough. We were never really Hispanic enough. It was always somewhere in the middle. We found a difficult time trying to figure out where we fit in the community."

Foster and his brother remain close today. Abdul said they have talked about the challenges growing up and how it affected both of them. "Arian didn't care. I think Arian, from a young age, just kind of figured out who he was. I think he always knew who he was, and regardless of what anybody said about him -- to him, behind his back, in his face -- it didn't matter. Arian knew who he was and what he was going to do, and he knew what he wanted to do."

Foster, an undrafted free agent, knew what he wanted his future to become, and proved his value to the Texans in 2010. After leading the NFL with 1,616 rushing yards last season, 2011 hasn't gone as smoothly. In the preseason, Foster suffered an injury to his hamstring and tweeted a picture of his MRI, a violation of Texans team policy.

"I think I have a crooked sense of humor. I was just trying to make light of a bad situation. … Looking back at it, I was probably wrong," he told ESPN's "E:60" at the Texans facility last week.

The tweet was an example of the complexity of Arian Foster. He is intelligent. He studied philosophy at the University of Tennessee. He writes poetry, and his touchdown bow has roots in eastern religion.

He left New Mexico in high school to move to San Diego with his father when his parents divorced. But the place that shaped him still stays with him today.

"It's a place that I think is wonderful to go if you want to retire. I love my city. I love Albuquerque, N.M. That's where I came from, that's where it all started."

Ben Houser is a senior producer for "E:60." Associate producer Aaron Johnson contributed to this report.

Ben Houser is a Senior Producer for ESPN's E:60.