HOUSTON -- Trindon Holliday thought about trying out for the U.S. Olympic track team this summer. He quickly dismissed that notion because the London games overlapped with the start of Houston Texans training camp and Holliday would much rather make this team.
The former LSU track star ran back a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the preseason opener against Carolina on Saturday, and he wants to be Houston’s go-to guy on punt and kickoff returns. A sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Holliday sat out his first season with a left thumb injury, missed the entire 2011 preseason with a hamstring injury and spent most of the last regular season on the practice squad.
"My mental approach has always been to stay positive," Holliday said. "The first two years, I had injuries, but I can’t help that. Injuries happen. I just told myself, ‘Just stay positive, come out and work hard and things will work out for you."’
The Texans (No. 6 in the AP Pro32) play San Francisco (No. 4) on Saturday night at Reliant Stadium.
Holliday wants to show coaches what he can do as a receiver, as well. He still hasn’t played in a regular-season game.
Coach Gary Kubiak has other receivers to evaluate in the preseason and he wants Holliday to keep his focus on the kick returns. Special teams coach Joe Marciano says Holliday just needs to show he can be reliable.
"Up until this week, it almost seems like he misjudges or drops a punt a day," Marciano said. "He can hit home runs, but he’s got to be able to catch the ball. He’s got to make good decisions, and he’s got to be a consistent decision-maker on punt returns."
Marciano said Holliday executed the long kickoff return against the Panthers with sheer speed, and was equally impressive when he broke tackles on a 36-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. Marciano said Holliday had room to run on a punt return in Carolina, but waved for a fair catch, a mistake Marciano said comes from his lack of playing time.
"He had one guy to beat," Marciano said. "He said, ‘I saw that guy coming.’ I said, ‘Dude, he was 10 yards away, running full-speed. All you had to do was move.’ That’s the inexperience."
But overall, Holliday came out of the opener with renewed confidence, and he heard compliments from his teammates.
"Guys came up to me and told me that the one thing that our team was missing was special teams," he said, "and I just wanted to come out and show those guys that I can be counted on to make plays for this team."
All that’s left now is winning over his coaches, who say they still have to see more from him this preseason.
"We’ve still got three games left," Marciano said. "Let’s not anoint him yet. He’s basically a rookie. The jury’s still out."
At 5-foot-5, Holliday has been proving naysayers wrong since he began playing football in the seventh grade. His mother was afraid he would get hurt because he was so small, but Holliday raised his value by developing world-class speed.
When he first worked out for LSU coaches, they were amazed to the point of disbelief.
"I went out there to run the 40 for them in summer camp, and they didn’t believe it," he said. "So they had me run it again."
At times, he thought track might be the career path to follow after college. In 2008, his junior year, he advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic trials for the 100-meter dash. He was the 2009 NCAA champion in the event, and earned the label as the fastest man in college football.
He finished his college career with 3,297 all-purpose yards, 10th in LSU history, and returned four kicks (two punts and two kickoffs) for touchdowns. He impressed scouts at the 2010 combine by running a 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds.
The next step is showing he belongs in the NFL.
"I’ve heard all my life—that I’ve been too small to do this, too small to do that," he said. "I just take all that as motivation and show that I can do it. It’s really nothing to overcome. If I stay positive about everything and be smart about my approach, everything will be all right."
Notes: LB Brian Cushing practiced on Tuesday after a bout with a virus last week. NT Shaun Cody watched from the sideline, with a portable device delivering electric stimulation to his injured back. Earl Mitchell will likely take Cody’s reps in Saturday’s game. Mitchell had 27 tackles, including a sack, for the Texans last season.