Entering the 2009 NFL Draft, former University of Tennessee running back Arian Foster was a longshot to be selected.
After four years as a Volunteer, Foster only had one 1,000-yard season and was beset by injuries.
Furthermore, he fumbled the ball at crucial moments and there were character issues raised by the Vols staff.
Those concerns led to all NFL teams passing him during the draft.
However, despite the red flags, Foster left Tennessee as the second all-time leading rusher in program history.
That led the Houston Texans to sign him as an undrafted free agent.
I believe that the Houston Texans will never see a running back better than Arian Foster, my absolute favorite to watch growing up. pic.twitter.com/lCuIsibrIs
— te𝕏 🌎☄️💕® (@TexanicoYT) January 11, 2024
In just his second season as a pro, Foster established himself as one of the best young backs in the league.
During the 2010 season, Foster led the NFL in yards, average yards per game, and touchdowns.
He continued to amass 1,000-yard seasons in three of the next four years.
Unfortunately, injuries ended Foster’s career just as it was taking off, leading him to retire after the 2016 season.
This is the story of Arian Foster.
Big Plans for a Young Kid
Arian Isa Foster was born on August 24, 1986, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
His father, Carl, had been a receiver for the University of New Mexico and had a tryout with the Denver Broncos a few years before Arian was born.
Arian followed in his father’s footsteps and started playing ball by the time he was in first grade.
Surprisingly, Carl Foster didn’t like the idea of his son playing at such a young age.
Despite his father’s reservations, Arian continued to play football and even told his elementary teacher that he would someday play in the NFL.
The teacher scoffed at the idea and Foster used the slight as further motivation to succeed.
He continued playing while at Valley High School in Albuquerque and built up a reputation as a good player.
In 2000, Foster’s parents divorced and Carl Foster moved to San Diego three years later.
Arian made the difficult decision to go with him.
High School Phenom
Word spread quickly among the Mission Bay High School (San Diego) football team that a new kid was about to join the team as a junior in 2003.
“All of us are asking ‘Who’s this new guy coming in?’” said friend and former teammate Jaime Nguyen.
Foster joined the Buccaneer football program and in no time became the team’s starting running back.
“There were seven of us, pretty close guys who’d been together for three years, and we don’t know him. And then he’s playing my position. So I really don’t like this guy. It doesn’t take long,” said Nguyen in 2013, “to realize that Arian’s the real deal.”
Head coach Dennis Pugh was ecstatic to get a player of Foster’s ability and skill set.
“Arian just totally fell into our hands,” said Pugh. “As a high school kid he was pretty put together from working out with his dad, who kept Arian under control.”
In his first game with Mission Bay, Foster took a kickoff to the house.
Did you know that former NFL RB Arian Foster is a Mission Bay Alum? Arian was all-CIF as a senior. Rated 3⭐ he chose @Vol_Football over other offers. In the NFL he was a 4x pro bowler, 2x all-pro, 2x rushing TDs leader. He is the Texans all-time rushing and rushing TDs leader. pic.twitter.com/XR6JsPUI01
— Mission Bay Football (@MissionBayFball) October 17, 2020
He would repeat the feat six more times during his prep career.
Then, after a solid junior season, Foster blew the doors off opponents as a senior.
The Buccaneers made it to the playoffs that year before losing to Marian Catholic.
Despite the loss, Foster was responsible for four touchdowns including two kick return scores of 97 and 88 yards.
Foster Commits to Tennessee
Foster’s prep stats brought him numerous honors including All-West Region by PrepStar, All-San Diego Western League Player of the Year by the San Diego Union-Tribune, and a three-star designation from Rivals.com.
Coaches from the University of Tennessee came to the San Diego area to recruit and watched Foster with eyes wide and mouths open.
Impressed with his skills as a running back, the Vols coaches offered Foster a scholarship and he committed.
After arriving in Knoxville, Foster redshirted his first year.
Then, as a freshman in 2005, he slowly but surely got more playing time.
Arian Foster days until it’s FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!! 🍊🍊 pic.twitter.com/8RGB8MAP8q
— BigOrangeHub 🍊 (@BigOrangeHub) August 6, 2023
When starter Gerald Riggs Jr. went down with a serious injury in late October, Foster was suddenly the lead back.
He responded like a seasoned veteran and rumbled for 148 yards and a touchdown the following week against South Carolina.
On November 5 against eighth-ranked Notre Dame, Foster cruised for 128 yards and a score in the 41-21 loss.
Then, on November 19 against Vanderbilt, Foster racked up 268 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
His yardage marked the third-highest total in Vols history.
Tennessee ended the ‘05 season 5-6, but Foster led the team with 879 yards and five touchdowns rushing.
Arrest and Sub-Par 2006
In 2006, the Volunteers rebounded with a 9-4 overall record.
Foster found himself fighting for playing time with two other backs and had a hard time staying in the starting lineup.
He was also sidelined for two games due to an ankle injury.
However, there were moments where the sophomore shined such as a three-touchdown day against the Georgia Bulldogs and the game-winning score against Alabama.
Neyland went nuts. pic.twitter.com/oCObtqoly2
— Jordan Burns 🅴 (@BigJordanBurns) January 3, 2019
Then, days after a loss to LSU, Foster, and two teammates were arrested for disorderly conduct and underage drinking (Foster was 20 at the time) at a nightclub.
“The three young men who were arrested let their teammates, coaches, administration and great fans down,” Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer said. “Their behavior is an example … [of] when immature male ego mixes with alcohol and stupidity.”
Fulmer suspended Foster for the first half of the Vols’ next game against Arkansas, a game Tennessee would lose, 31-14.
In his first bowl appearance against Penn State in the 2007 Outback Bowl, Foster fumbled the ball with Tennesse driving deep in Nittany Lions’ territory.
Penn State Bowl Countdown
2007 Outback Bowl
Sean Lee (@SeanLee_50) forces the fumble by Arian Foster and Tony Davis scoops it up and takes it for a 88-yard touchdown to give Penn State the lead in the 4th quarter! #WeAre pic.twitter.com/x1SntFt5ZF
— Basic Blues Nation (@BasicBlues) December 24, 2023
The ball was picked up by Penn State’s Tony Davis and returned 88 yards for a touchdown.
Tennessee would lose the contest 20-10.
Foster would finish the season with 322 yards and five touchdowns.
Bounce Back Year
Foster was in Fulmer’s dog house for much of the 2006 season.
In 2007, the running back sought to make things right.
Named the starter once again, Foster gained huge chunks of yards against the Vols’ opponents.
After solid games during the first two weeks of the season, Foster fumbled again during a crucial point of Tennesee’s showdown against the Florida Gators.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Doe finds a gift” (2007)
Down 28-6 but having reeled off 14 unanswered, Tennessee was sniffing a comeback. But Arian Foster coughed those chances away with this fumble, which Dustin Doe scooped n scored to slam the door in their face. pic.twitter.com/xb0Dgc82WU
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) December 5, 2020
His fumble turned a tight game into a 59-20 blowout loss.
Foster made up for his gaffe by helping the Vols win eight of their next 10 games.
In late November, Foster went over the 1,000-yard mark against the Kentucky Wildcats.
As the Vols wrapped their 10-4 season with an Outback Bowl victory over Wisconsin, Foster ended his junior year as the SEC’s third-leading rusher.
His remarkable year included 1,193 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 39 receptions for 340 yards, and two more scores receiving.
Disappointing Senior Year
In the months leading up to his senior season in 2008, Foster briefly considered turning pro.
Based on his solid 2007 numbers, Foster was considered a second-round talent by several NFL Draft pundits.
Fulmer, however, convinced Foster to stay.
That would prove to be a mistake.
In what would be his final year with the school, Fulmer and his new offensive coordinator, Dave Clawson, put in some new wrinkles to the offense.
Unfortunately, those wrinkles excluded Foster from large portions of the game plan.
He rushed for over 100 yards against the University of Alabama-Birmingham on September 13, then failed to reach the mark the rest of the year.
By the time the smoke cleared on the Vols’ disappointing 5-7 season, Foster tallied just 570 yards and one score on the ground.
— Suleyman (@SuleymanSports) November 6, 2012
Fulmer told anyone who would listen that Foster’s final year was truncated due to injuries, but Foster disputed the claim.
He would end his time in Tennessee with 2,964 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing along with 83 catches for 742 yards and two more touchdowns.
Foster’s rushing numbers were good for second all-time in program history behind Travis Henry and his receiving yardage was also good for second all-time behind Stanley Morgan.
Five years after he left college, Foster made a bombshell announcement that he received money during his senior year at Tennessee.
“I don’t know if this will throw us into an NCAA investigation — my senior year, I was getting money on the side,” Foster said in 2013. “I really didn’t have any money. I had to either pay the rent or buy some food. I remember the feeling of like, ‘Man, be careful.’ But there’s nothing wrong with it. And you’re not going to convince me that there is something wrong with it.”
Fulmer was no longer coaching the Vols, but he denied any knowledge of the improper benefits Foster received.
“As the head coach at Tennessee for 17 years, I took great pride in having a program that was NCAA compliant, as did our staff and administration,” Fulmer said. “If we knew of a violation, big or small, we reported it.”
In 2015, Foster mentioned during an interview that he received between $40,000-$50,000 during his time in college.
Vol fans, it was a joke. I didn't get no where near 50k.
— feeno (@ArianFoster) January 30, 2015
After his comment created a backlash from Vols fans, Foster claimed that he was only joking about the hefty sum.
Before Foster’s admission and retraction, he was a borderline 2009 NFL Draft pick.
Plenty of pro teams inquired about him during meetings with Tennessee coaches and teammates.
The feedback they received was not good.
There were reports that Foster was a selfish player and hard to coach and there was his arrest during the 2006 season.
Scouts also dismissed Foster’s pro ability by pointing to his costly fumbles while a Vol.
It didn’t matter that he only coughed up the ball five times in 650 total carries, Foster’s blunders against Penn State and Florida were red flags.
Further proof in the minds of pro evaluators was the fact that Foster only rushed for 570 yards as a senior, a huge dropoff from his junior year.
In 2009, the #Texans signed RB Arian Foster as an undrafted free agent.
Foster was called up to the active roster for the final six games of the season and the rest was history.#TexansTop100 » No. 75
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) June 26, 2019
When Fulmer heard the reviews of his former player, he tried to put Foster’s career in a better light.
“There were a couple of fumbles that were untimely that people want to remember; they forget about his full career, about how special he was. He had a couple of fumbles after a couple of big runs. They were costly, but we probably wouldn’t have been there without him,” said Fulmer.
Ultimately, each NFL team was not convinced of Foster’s potential and passed on him during the ‘09 draft.
Foster Shocks the World
Not long after the draft ended, the Houston Texans signed Foster as an undrafted free agent.
After spending time on the practice squad, Foster was elevated to the active roster in late November.
During a Week 16 game against the Miami Dolphins, Foster scored his first NFL touchdown and got his first start a week later.
In 2010, Foster was able to unseat starting running back Steve Slaton and he suddenly became the darling of the NFL.
In Week 1, he set a Texans single-game record by running for 231 yards against the Indianapolis Colts.
In the first game of the season against the Colts in 2010:
Arian Foster became the 5th youngest player to ever rush for 230 yards while having 3 touchdowns.
— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) August 10, 2022
Foster’s total also marked the second-highest opening-game rushing total in league history behind O.J. Simpson.
He continued setting franchise records and endearing himself to the Houston faithful and was neck-and-neck with Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles for the NFL rushing title.
In the final week of the year, Foster poured it on and rushed for 180 yards and two scores against Jacksonville, easily surpassing Charles for the title.
He finished the season with 1,616 yards, 16 touchdowns, a 101.0 yards per game average, and 330 total touches, all of which led the league.
Foster also added a career-best 66 receptions for 604 yards and two more touchdowns.
His 2,220 total yards from scrimmage broke the NFL record of total scrimmage yards by an undrafted player.
“I understand that it’s rare in this league to go undrafted and perform at the level that I did,” Foster said. “What people don’t understand is that it didn’t just happen. I worked day and night at my craft.”
Although Houston went 6-10, Foster was named a first-team All-Pro and voted to his first Pro Bowl.
Expect Nothing Less
By the beginning of the 2011 NFL season, Foster was a hot commodity.
He was one of the best young backs in the NFL and fans loved his “Namaste” bows after touchdowns.
Damn can we as a fandom get @ArianFoster back into the fold? Tired of Texans pretending he doesnt exist and I hate how he has to act like he isnt a great part of our history #WeAreTexans @HoustonTexans pic.twitter.com/yXskvO0ona
— William (@Will_ace4) January 11, 2024
The celebration was an homage to his philosophical roots and his love for writing poetry.
“I feel like every running back should have their own little stamp on the game,” Foster said. “Mine kind of stems from just the core of what I believe. It’s a Hindu greeting, and it just means, ‘I see the God in you.’ It’s paying respect to the game of football.”
According to his friends from high school, Foster’s way of thinking and unique mindset was nothing new.
“Arian doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him at all,” said Nguyen. “All the way through high school, he didn’t care, even if it meant him being different from everybody. When I initially met him, I thought he was a little weird, the music he listened to and the way he dressed. It wasn’t cool at the time. That’s important when you’re younger, but over time, you realize those things don’t really matter.”
It also didn’t shock his friends that Foster was doing well in the NFL.
“He’s the same guy in the NFL that he was here, the same kind of player, too,” said former Mission Bay teammate Terrell Cloud. “He has that vision. He sees things out there that other players don’t see.”
In 2011, Foster dealt with nagging hamstring injuries yet still rushed for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 53 passes for 617 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games.
That led to second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections.
After rushing for 103 yards in Week 1, Arian Foster has 25 100-yard rush games since 2010. That is the MOST in NFL. pic.twitter.com/xAi5pW0vhw
— His And Hers (@HisAndHers) September 11, 2014
Even better, the Texans went 10-6 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in team history.
In the Wild Card round against Cincinnati, Foster crushed the Bengals for 153 yards and two scores in a 31-10 victory.
The following week he added 132 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to get past the Baltimore Ravens.
Foster Continues His Dominance
Foster’s hard work paid off before the 2012 season when Houston signed him to a five-year deal worth $43.5 million and over $20 million guaranteed.
The contract represented a huge increase in pay from the $525,000 he earned in 2011.
“I’m an extreme believer in karma, for the most part,” Foster said. “If you take care of this game, it will take care of you. Even if it didn’t, something else in my life, I was going to be OK somewhat. I just believe that. I think belief is 90 percent of the battle.”
After getting his money, Foster continued to take care of his game as well as his body.
Just as the season was about to begin, Foster revealed that he had become a vegan.
He then backtracked slightly a few months later when he shared that he ate chicken occasionally.
During the 2012 season, he ran through opponents a league-high 351 times (also a career-high) for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns, which also led the NFL.
Additionally, he had 40 receptions for 217 yards and another two touchdowns.
Arian Foster was that guy in Houston.pic.twitter.com/XVGLkRWtyg
— Nick Schwager (@NickSchwagerNFL) August 24, 2022
The Texans reached 12 wins, the most in the organization’s history, and defeated Cincinnati again in the playoffs before getting waxed by New England.
During the postseason, Foster had a combined 230 rushing yards, two rushing scores, and a receiving score.
After the playoffs, he played in his third consecutive Pro Bowl.
In 2013, Houston took a massive step back, falling to 2-14.
One of the primary reasons for the decline was Foster’s absence for eight games due to a back injury, limiting him to 542 yards and one touchdown.
Thankfully, he healed in time for the 2014 season and rushed for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns along with 38 receptions for 327 yards and five touchdowns.
Foster went to his fourth Pro Bowl and the Texans improved to 9-7 under new head coach Bill O’Brien.
Injuries End Foster’s Career
Just when things were going well, Foster’s career suddenly ended.
During training camp in 2015, he tore his groin muscle and missed the first three games of the season.
Then, after starting the next four games, Foster was toting the rock during a play against the Miami Dolphins in Week 7 when he suddenly fell to the ground.
Foster hadn’t been tackled, but he rolled on the turf in pain.
He had torn his Achilles tendon and was done for the year.
“I know he’s hurting,” O’Brien said. “He worked hard to come back for the season, had the groin injury and now this injury. He’s a guy that’s proven he can come back from injury and I’m sure once he’s able to rehab it he’ll rehab it very diligently and try to come back. We’re all supportive of him in that rehab.”
It turned out to be Foster’s last game in a Texans uniform when the team released him in March 2016.
Four months later, the Dolphins reached out and signed Foster to a one-year deal.
— Ty (@iamtylertnt) December 30, 2023
Excited about the new opportunity, Foster played in four games and started two before another injury ended his season.
In late October 2016, Foster abruptly announced his retirement.
“My father always said, ‘You’ll know when it’s time to walk away.’ It has never been more clear than right now. I’m walking away with peace. I know it’s not commonplace to do it midseason, but my body just can’t take the punishment this game asks for any longer,” said Foster in a written statement.
Just as soon as he came into the league as a long shot and became an overnight star, Foster was finished as an NFL player.
During his career, he had 1,476 rushing attempts for 6,527 yards and 54 touchdowns.
Foster also had 255 receptions for 2,346 yards, and 14 scores.
He was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, led the NFL in rushing touchdowns twice, and was the NFL’s rushing champion once.
Foster still leads the Texans all-time as their career leader in rushing yards (6,472), rushing touchdowns (54), and most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a single year.
Life After Football
While rehabbing from his back injury in 2013, Foster played a running back (of course) in the movie Draft Day starring Kevin Coster.
Arian Foster in Draft Day (2014) pic.twitter.com/wc43Z8yWL0
— Frame Found (@framefound) August 7, 2022
In the film, Foster’s character, Ray Jennings, was selected by Costner’s Cleveland Browns.
Since then, Foster has made other television and movie appearances.
He also got into the music business and released a rap album in 2018 titled Flamingo & Koval using the stage name Bobby Feeno.
— Viva La Stool (@VivaLaStool) January 31, 2023
Then, in 2023, Foster was being interviewed for a podcast when he claimed that the NFL is rigged and that the NFL sends each player a script before the start of every season.
“We were really dedicated to it,” said Foster. “So, it was more so like that’s what practice was about — it was about practicing the script. This is what goes on, this is what we have to do…WWF, so it’s like we know what’s going to happen. You still gotta put on a show.”
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara went along with the claim before it was revealed that Foster and Kamara were joking.