How Texans rookie group chat laid the foundation for a winning culture

Houston Texans rookie wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson looked down at his phone, which had notified him that he had a text message waiting. There were a lot of numbers he did not recognize right away, but he knew it came from his new NFL teammates because of the positive message he read as soon as he opened it up.

Hutchinson, who the Texans selected with the 205th pick in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL draft, did not want to disclose to Texans Wire what the message said, but he expressed that it made him ready to get to work immediately.

As Houston prepares for their first playoff game since 2019 at NRG Stadium against the Cleveland Browns, the 2023 AFC South Champions have depended a lot on the rookie class to help get them to this point.

“That group manifested it into the world without us even knowing it before everything started,” Hutchinson said Thursday after practice. “Now it is just crazy to look back at those text messages and see where we are. We did everything we said we were going to do.”

The two most prominent names that stand out from first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans’ rookies are dynamic quarterback C.J. Stroud and ferocious edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., who the Texans made the cornerstones of the offense and defense by drafting them back-to-back (Stroud at No. 2, Anderson at No. 3) in the draft.

So, it isn’t surprising that the two took it upon themselves to gather all the rookie’s numbers and text them to let them know they were all together, no matter where they were drafted.

“Me and C.J. always knew that the purpose in coming here was to change the culture and try to build a new foundation and get the guys going,” Anderson told Texans Wire. “I think it starts with the draft class we have. Me and C.J. wanted to let the guys know what we are trying to do. This is what we are trying to accomplish, and it really starts with us. If we can go out and have energy and show how to practice the right way, then it will start affecting everyone in the whole organization.

“The most important part of the group text was, ‘It starts with us.’ However, we go about it if we don’t conform to the energy around the building and we make our own energy. We showed positive energy, and it was really more the people. On the field, it is going to take care of itself. How are we around the building? How are we greeting people? Are we just walking past them? No, this rookie class, we speak to everybody we walk past, and we always have a smile on our faces. The biggest thing is we pick each other up when we are down. We show energy in everything we do, and it just floods through the whole locker room. That is what I think we did to get the rookies to understand.”

Communication and understanding the task is how each rookie approached the season, from the rookie minicamp to completing the regular season with a gritty 23-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts to advance to the postseason.

“Even though we are rookies, we are the tone-setters; we are the first ones that DeMeco drafted, and he believes in us,” said rookie linebacker Henry To’o To’o. “We took that and kind of ran with it. I think that is what makes our group so special. The confidence we have in each other and in our teammates. In rookie camp, it was trash-talking, and we were out there competing, and I just think it comes with the confidence we have in each other. There was no question about the goals and aspirations that we had and whether we could reach them or not.”

The veterans on the team have recognized how close of a unit the 2023 rookie draft class is, and they do their part to ensure they keep the chemistry they have created. They understand the talent is there but are more impressed with how they have become a unit without isolating other teammates. What is more inspiring is that they also seek knowledge from the veterans to make themselves better.

“They bring tenacity to the table,” said Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard about the rookies. “I don’t see another rookie class topping them that has this type of firepower and how mature they are as well.”

Although they carry themselves like tenured NFL veterans, many must remember that these are also young men who were in college around individuals their age and younger this time last year. So, it is not unusual to find out how funny wide receiver Tank Dell is in the group text or how much trash-talking Stroud does in some of his responses. When Anderson is not studying film or doing something football-related, he has confessed that he loves to joke back and forth.

“We have a lot of comedians,” said Hutchinson, who also admitted he is a terrible responder regarding texting. “C.J. always has the comebacks. Tank is just one funny individual. Will is serious, but he has a little funny side to him. I can throw myself in there, but it all depends on the day you catch me; I can be funny.”

Houston’s hopes of advancing to the next round of the NFL playoffs will depend a lot on the production of the rookies who are seeking revenge from a 36-22 Week 16 embarrassing loss to the Browns. Anderson (ankle) and Stroud (concussion) both missed the game, and the Texans’ offense struggled to move the ball against the Browns’ defense.

In contrast, Cleveland’s offense moved freely as the Texans’ defense could not stop quarterback Joe Flacco (368 yards passing and three touchdowns) and wide receiver Amari Cooper (265 yards receiving and two touchdowns).

Things should be different this Saturday when Stroud, the leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Anderson, who is in contention to capture the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, return to the field.

Suppose they can help the Texans advance to the divisional round. In that case, they can attribute most of their success to their ability to lead and instill confidence in their fellow rookie teammates.

“We said it was something when we all got drafted; we’d get a group chat together,” said Stroud. “It was just us, the rookies, and we were like, ‘Man, we’re going to be the foundation that changes this thing around,’ and lo and behold, that’s kind of what came to be true.

“Of course, it’s not just us, it’s plenty of vets and guys who have been here – a lot of different people who have held people accountable and done their job at a high level, but I definitely think that the group of guys we brought in – there’s been times where the rookies have led, and I think everybody can agree with that. It’s been cool just to see some of the things we talked about come to fruition.”

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire