With a mix of nervousness and excitement, Shrewsbury native Shawn Loiseau headed to Houston for the opening of training camp on Sunday as a member of the Texans’ rookie class.
The first player from Merrimack College’s relatively young football program to get a shot in the NFL, and one of a relatively small number of Division 2 players who fight for roster spots in the league, Loiseau feels he is in a familiar position.
“It’s been like everything else before, I’ve got my back against the wall and I feel like a lot of people think that it’s going to be hard for me to do, and they don’t really think that I can make the team or make the 53-man roster,’’ he said last week, “and it’s just been like that my whole life. But I think I have what it takes to make the team.”
Securing an NFL job isn’t impossible for a Division 2 player. The Patriots have Danny Woodhead, and standout Saints offensive lineman Jahri Evans, Titans safety Jordan Babineaux, Packers fullback John Kuhn, and Falcons fullback Brent Grimes are all from Division 2 programs, and six players from D-2 were drafted this year.
While a standout at Shrewsbury High, his football career was nearly derailed because of a fight outside his home during his junior year, when he was jumped and struck in the head with a pipe. Though Loiseau was defending himself, he was arrested and charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon after slamming one kid’s head to the ground, and nearly kicked out of school for his senior year.
Shrewsbury allowed him back, and he had a school-record 136 tackles in his final season, but the lukewarm Division 1 and 1-AA interest he had received disappeared after the arrest.
Merrimack coach John Perry, who had scouted Loiseau when he was an assistant at New Hampshire, extended an offer. After making an impression on special teams as a freshman, Loiseau averaged 126 tackles in his final three years at Merrimack.
Loiseau was invited to the East-West Shrine Game and the combine, which garnered him national attention, but wasn’t drafted. The Texans were one of several teams that called as soon as the draft ended, and he opted to sign with them because he believed he had a better chance to play there than with other teams.
The presence of linebacker Brian Cushing, whom Loiseau has admired for years, may have helped sway things in Houston’s favor.
“It’s just an incredible feeling. I’ve been watching him ever since I was in high school and trying to model my game after him,” Loiseau said. “He’s such an intense and high-motor guy and I love every part of his game.
“Now I’m in the locker room with him and in the meeting room with him and doing linebacker drills with him, it’s an incredible thing. He’s just a great guy to be able to learn from and to watch work, and all the stuff he does on and off the field is professional. And he’s obviously a great athlete and a great player in the NFL, so I couldn’t be learning from a better guy.”
During organized team activities and spring camps, Cushing, who serves as the signal-caller on defense, gave Loiseau tips on making calls and on some fundamentals, and Bradie James also has taken Loiseau under his wing, tutoring him in a film session.
Loiseau knows his best shot at making the team early on will be on special teams, which he gladly accepts. Loiseau had been making the 120-mile round trip between his home in Shrewsbury and Gridiron Training in Danvers nearly every day to prepare for camp, or carrying Dan Curran, one of his former Merrimack coaches, on his back as he ran up sand hills in Chelmsford.
Parents Paul and Denise Loiseau are so excited about Shawn’s chances that Paul is talking about moving to Houston during the football season so he can see games. Shawn sent his father a box of team gear in the spring, and laughed when he said Paul had worn a Texans hat or T-shirt every day since.
Step one for Loiseau was getting his foot in the door. Step two is showing he belongs.
“I can’t wait to get down there for training camp and throw the pads on and get after it,” he said.
Faulk wants one more year
While Patriots rookies reported to Gillette Stadium on Thursday, veterans do not have to report until Wednesday. And barring a surprise, for the first time in 13 years Kevin Faulk likely won’t be among them.
The 36-year-old running back said last week that on reporting day, he expects he’ll be in his hometown of Carencro, La.
Faulk said, “Of course it’s been on my mind,” and that trying to accept that this could be the end of his career was affecting him.
“After I realized that it was starting to take a toll on my family as well, that it’s not just me getting frustrated, I was frustrating my family with my attitude and everything, I realized [playing again] is important, but they’re more important than anything to me right now,” he said.
Faulk has been doing anything and everything to keep busy — training with his son, Kevin, a high school sophomore who plays football, helping out at camps, speaking at local high schools, getting involved with his business interests — all with the aim of keeping his mind off his football future.
Faulk tore his right anterior cruciate ligament Sept. 19, 2010, against the Jets, and began the 2011 season on the physically unable to perform list. He was not only activated for but started his first game, against the Steelers in Week 8. He played 39 snaps — far more than he or the coaching staff thought he would — and ended up tweaking the knee.
He played in seven regular-season games, and was inactive for three. He played special teams in the divisional playoff game, but against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game he was in uniform and never took the field.
Then came the morning of the Super Bowl, when running backs coach Ivan Fears had to tell the man he loves like a son that he wouldn’t be dressing against the Giants.
That’s when it started to hit Faulk: This might be the end.
After sounding like a man resigned to his fate in an interview a week after the Super Bowl, Faulk wants a shot at a 14th season. He’s healthy, saying he’s “10 times better” physically than he was several months ago and feels he can contribute.
“I can tell just from training this offseason that I wasn’t nowhere near where I thought I was last year, but that’s just the competitor in me that thought that I was ready to go last year,’’ he said. “But I was nowhere near ready to go last year at all.”
Even though he believes he has a few more carries left in his legs, the Patriots’ all-time leader in receptions by a running back (431), kickoff return yards (4,098), and all-purpose yards (12,349) won’t hear of playing for another team.
“That’s one thing I’d never change my mind on. I was raised in a part of the country where loyalty is everything,” Faulk said. “I’ve been there 13 years and the loyalty is to them no matter what goes on with the organization, no matter how anything happens. That’s who I am. I’m not going to let the way somebody else reacts change who I am as a person.”
That’s not how it works
Jets receiver Santonio Holmes has been identified as one of the biggest problems for a team that finished 8-8 last season. So it was humorous to hear him lecture New York reporters last week during an NFL.com podcast, saying that if the media members “want to be part of our team and feel so important, be there to support us, not try to break us down.”
That’s not how media works. A good beat reporter isn’t a team’s enemy, and isn’t a fan. He or she is there to gather facts, anecdotes, and quotes and pass them on to readers or listeners. Is every reporter completely impartial? Sadly, no. Can some be accused of being a fan of the team they cover? Sadly, yes.
Being impartial means writing about the good and the bad, and trying to paint as honest a picture about what’s going on as possible. If a team or player is struggling, sometimes the truth isn’t well-received. But at the end of the day, a beat writer’s job is to present what he or she knows, good or bad.
Perhaps if Holmes didn’t publicly criticize his offensive line or pout in the huddle during a crucial game or undermine his quarterback in meetings — things that led one teammate to call him a “cancer” — it wouldn’t be so laughable for him to make statements like this:
“There’s not one day we step into the locker room and try to break each other down, that we talk bad about the way that person played . . . So if the New York media wants to be a part of our team and wants to continue writing about us, write positive things. Stay away from the negative.”
We’re not sure what Holmes believes is positive about a team losing its last three games to go from a potential playoff berth to a flame-out months after its coach predicted Super Bowl glory.
But Holmes did make at least one true statement when he said he believes a two-quarterback system, like the one the Jets may use this season with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, won’t work.
Heavy-duty weight loss
It isn’t often one feels compelled to give a tip of the cap to Jets coach Rex Ryan, but after doing the media rounds last week to share that he’s lost 106 pounds over the last two years, including 50 since the end of last season, he deserves one.
Ryan revealed that he had lap-band surgery in 2010, and is down to 242 pounds, after stepping on a scale before the 2009 AFC Championship game and seeing 348.
“I mean, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I swear to you, I wanted to look to see if someone was [on the scale] behind me.”
The number scared him into action.
“I make a lot of money doing something I love, I know how fortunate I am, but without your health, what do you really have?” he said. “I want to see my kids grow, I want to see their kids grow up, and all that was important to me.”
Heading into his fourth season with the Jets, Ryan is walking for 45 minutes to an hour each day.
He also convinced twin brother Rob, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, to have lap-band surgery earlier this year, and Rob has lost 60 pounds.
Kevin Faulk isn’t the only veteran waiting on a call from the Patriots. According to a league source, defensive end Andre Carter, who was expected to be brought back, has not heard from the Patriots. Carter was the Patriots’ best pass-rusher last year, with 10 sacks in 13-plus games before suffering a ruptured quadriceps, and was also a great presence in the locker room . . . One more item on the Jets (and let’s face it, they’re an entertaining group): Star cornerback Darrelle Revis may be a holdout. Again. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said last week that he would be “almost surprised” if Revis is there when the Jets open camp on Thursday. His holdout was the big story of camp in 2010, and he eventually signed a four-year, $46 million contract that was front-loaded (he made $32.5 million over the first two years). With $13.5 million remaining, and everyone at the Jets’ facility consistently praising him as the best cornerback in the NFL, Revis thinks he should be paid as such, and $7.5 million isn’t the top salary this season for the position. In interviews this offseason, Revis has both said he’s fine with his contract, and that it was up to general manager Mike Tannenbaum whether or not he showed up to camp. Interestingly, a member of Revis’s camp may have tipped his hand Friday night when he asked his Twitter followers, “Where is a good place to stay in Cortland?” (The Jets train in Cortland, N.Y.). When the media picked up on his tweet, it was deleted . . . There have been 10 known arrests of NFL players this month, the most recent being Titans receiver Kenny Britt, who was charged with driving under the influence, and Chiefs cornerback Donald Washington, facing multiple charges including driving on a suspended license and driving under the influence of drugs after a small amount of marijuana was found in a backpack in his car’s trunk. While the response from some has been that training camp can’t come soon enough — once camps start, players will not be left to their own devices so often, and in theory won’t have as many opportunities to get in trouble — why does that have to be the case? With the current 90-man roster limit, there are more than 2,800 players who have figured out a way not to get arrested this month. Is it too much to expect that they don’t do foolish and potentially dangerous things such as drive drunk? Even for a player at the bottom of the league’s pay scale, paying a $100 cab fare to get home safely and stay out of trouble costs a lot less than a suspension (without pay) or worse, an accident that injures an innocent person or himself . . . With a supermodel wife, two sons, and three Super Bowl rings, Tom Brady is a pretty fortunate guy, which Sports Illustrated reinforced last week, when Brady landed at 26th in the magazine’s annual “Fortunate 50” list of the highest-earning American athletes. SI put Brady’s earnings for the last year at $22.25 million — $12.25 million in salary plus $10 million in endorsements. He came in fifth among NFL players, behind Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Mario Williams, and Calvin Johnson.