Houston Five years ago, Eric Winston snubbed Texas A&M; in favor of signing with Miami. While he enjoyed his time in Florida, the offensive tackle is ecstatic about returning to his home state to play for the Houston Texans.
Winston, who grew up in Midland, caused a rift in his family when he rescinded an oral commitment to A&M; to play for the Hurricanes. He upset his mother and Texas A&M; alum stepfather with the decision, but still has no regrets about his choice.
"I loved College Station and I loved A&M;, but for me it just wasn't the right place at that time," he said. "But I'm still a fan and root for them on TV and stuff."
The 6-foot-7, 310-pound player was chosen by the Texans in the third round of this year's draft after gaining second-team Associated Press All-America honors as a senior.
"Miami was great and I love being there... but I'm so glad to be back," he said.
Winston feels he's a good fit for Houston's new offense because of his athleticism. But he's working to improve a key aspect of his game.
"I have to use my hands better," he said. "In college I was a more athletic tackle and I could get away with maybe not using my hands as good and rebounding with my feet and having that take over. Here you've got to be good with your hands. You've got to be able to get them on people."
Winston entered college as a tight end, but moved to the offensive line after one season and immediately excelled in that role. Though he's sometimes wistful about his days as a tight end, he believes the line is "the best place for me."
When asked if he'll ask the coaches about catching a pass or two, Winston, who hopes to go into politics after his football career, had a very diplomatic answer.
"Maybe sometime we could have a tackle eligible play in and I could catch a touchdown," he said. "I'll probably wait until after my rookie year to ask. I'll try to fit in first before I start hassling them."
If he remains healthy, the Texans may have gotten a steal by snagging him in the third round. Winston was ranked as one of the top offensive tackles in the country before a knee injury during his junior year scared many scouts away.
After last year's 2-14 debacle, the Texans worked to get players who have been in successful programs to bring a more positive mind-set to the team. Winston, who was never on a team with a losing record in high school or college, is the perfect example of that.
In high school, he was part of the Cedric Benson-led Midland Lee teams that won three consecutive state championships. He also starred for the basketball team that made it to the state tournament.
He said before the movie "Friday Night Lights," set at rival Odessa Permian, many people outside of Texas were shocked at the importance of high school football in the state.
"Midland is such a hotbed, and it was such a fun time and we were so good, too. That's what made it really special - all those state championship runs we made. Growing up, you think that's the norm everywhere. When you go other places and you tell guys about high school games and what they meant they just don't believe you. It's special to be a part of that."