ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Arian Foster – the eyes of Texas are upon you.
As are the eyes of the entire NFL.
Which, by the way, is just fine for Albuquerque native.
"We do have a target on our chests," says Foster, who along with his Houston Texans teammates play host to the Dallas Cowboys in today's Lone Star State showdown. "We've got a great group of guys, a great group of coaches. We're keeping our heads on straight and we're going to work hard every day."
The Texans (2-0) are the early-season NFL darlings. They upset Indianapolis in their season opener, then made a remarkable 17-point comeback to win in overtime last week at Washington.
The Cowboys (0-2), one of the league's Super Bowl favorites, are desperate to win.
It is perhaps the weekend's most intriguing matchup, and will allow Foster a chance to become even more of a national name.
"It's been kind of crazy," Foster told the Journal of all the recent publicity. "But right now, it's all good. (My success) has come from a collection of things; a great offensive line, my fullback Vonta Leach – he doesn't get a lot of credit, but he's great – and I put in a lot of work in the offseason. I feel like it's paying off."
Sure has. To the tune of a league-leading 300 yards rushing – 60 yards better than second place Darren McFadden of Oakland – and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 227-pound, 23-year-old Foster has added four receptions for 76 yards.
Foster granted a spot
Few could have ever seen this coming.
Certainly not in high school.
Foster was a star at the University of Tennessee, but wasn't drafted by the NFL in 2009.
He finally got a chance to draw a paycheck from the Texans, signing as, basically, a member of its practice squad.
He must have practiced well. Because Foster makes the movie "Rudy" look like the warm-hearted, one-second-of-glory tale of fantasy it was.
After spending most of the 2009 season on the Texans' practice squad, Foster got a chance to display his mettle in the second half of the season. Then in the last two games, Foster rushed for a combined 216 yards and three touchdowns.
Suddenly, the word 'round Space City this summer was how the nine-year-old franchise had finally found a guy who could pound the ground – and get the team its first playoff appearance.
His first two games of 2010 have suggested that Foster is no fluke.
"It's been a little surreal. I've had a hard time grasping all of the publicity," says Foster's mother, Bernadette Sizemore. "I told him, 'I'm tired of seeing your face everywhere,' " she said with a laugh. "But you know what? And I'm not saying this just because I'm his mother – I'm not surprised.
"It's just two games. He's got a long way to go. But I've always known Arian had this in him."
Others, obviously, didn't.
Leading to a question: How does a kid from Albuquerque become a collegiate and NFL star after being an unknown at Valley High?
Foster – who's older brother, Abdul was a standout for Valley – never made a splash in high school. He was a YAFL megastar, and led his team to three straight titles in the kids' league.
"But I never got a shot at Valley," he says. "They didn't even put me on varsity until my last two games of my sophomore year. I wasn't the same size I am now, but I was a pretty big kid; about 6-foot, maybe 5-11, and 180 pounds. I just never got the chance with the coaches there."
Longtime Valley coach Vince Collins would not talk about why Foster left the program, but says, "in the long run, it was probably the best thing for the kid to be with his dad."
Father Carl Foster played wide receiver for the University of New Mexico in the late 1970s. After he and Bernadette divorced, he kept in close contact with his sons, and eventually moved to San Diego.
Arian admits he got involved with some questionable running mates off the field while at Valley, and was on a road to ruin.
Bernadette took over.
"It was a very difficult decision," she says, "but Carl and I were always on good terms after the divorce, and I felt the boys should live with him. They needed their dad's guidance and needed him to be the strong arm of the law," says Sizemore, who was born in Springer and whose maiden name is Maes. She is recently remarried and works at UNM for African American Student Services.
"I'm 5-2," says Sizemore. "It got pretty difficult for me to implement the kind of discipline they needed. But (in San Diego), they really flourished."
Abdul, a 2002 Valley grad, went on to run track at Florida A&M.
Arian became a prep star in San Diego before being recruited to Tennessee.
Bolting 'Burque, he feels, was the best thing that could have happened to him.
"Looking back, it's easy to see why so many Albuquerque kids fail. It's the attitude out here, and that's terrible," says Foster, who says he still visits at least three times a year and is in the process of creating programs to help straighten out troubled teens. "I will do anything to help the kids there. But there's just kind of this attitude where people accept mediocrity.
"It may be a big town in New Mexico, but it's small town and it's hard to understand that when you're growing up there. There's just not much to do, and kids get focused on gangs and drugs and other things like that. We had some great, great players out there, but the coaches don't promote them the way they should and they just end up settling, instead of making big goals."
Foster and business manager Lameck "Humble" Lukanga – a UNM graduate – say they are trying to change that attitude. They will begin an annual football-lifestyle camp this summer, in which Foster says he will bring ex-Cibola star and NFL player Alan Branch and a number of other NFL players with him.
"Sometimes, kids just need a little light at the end of the tunnel to get them going," Foster says. "It doesn't have to be football, it doesn't have to be sports, but they just need someone to give them the encouragement to go for it, whatever their dream is.
"Growing up, I didn't have any of that. I had a lot of teachers telling me to get a real dream and a real career goal. Luckily I'm hard-headed."
Humble, who is also former Lobo basketball player J.R. Giddens' business manager, says success hasn't changed Foster one iota. Foster still calls his mom daily, and is constantly making plans for his Albuquerque summer camp.
"Working with kids means the world to him," Humble says. "This is a guy who really, really appreciates where he came from and what it takes to escape. Working with kids is the most important thing in his life."
Foster, who attended MacArthur Elementary and Taft Middle School, says he was anxious to help the Vikings, as well, but Valley's coaches "just didn't think I had what it took."
"I thought I did," he says with a chuckle. "I guess I was right."
Valley went 5-5 in 2000, 1-9 in 2001, 6-5 in 2002 and 1-9 in 2003 when Foster would have been a junior at the school.
Foster's eye-popping statistics have made him one of the hottest fantasy football products in the land.
Fantasy football, which has become a national phenomena, is based on fans picking certain players to make up their team. Their team's performance is based on how each individual player does statistically in that week's games.
"I keep hearing about that," Foster sa
ys of his popularity in fantasy circles. "But I don't even know how to play that."
Foster's mother sure does. In the season's opening week, Foster ran for 231 yards and three TDs against Indianapolis – a fantasy owner's dream.
"I want you to know, he killed my fantasy team last week," Sizemore said with a laugh. "I have Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson (Houston's quarterback and top receiver) on my fantasy team. And thanks to (Foster), they did nothing! Arian just kept running the ball all game."
Which he hopes continues for years to come.