Growing up in Stafford, Jalen Pitre was 4 years old when the Texans used their second-round pick, 33rd overall, in the 2006 draft on linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
By the time Ryans was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year 10 months later, Pitre was playing with kids in the neighborhood and preparing for the first grade.
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“I don’t remember him as a player, but immediately after he got hired, I started looking up his highlights,” Pitre said Friday at a Baylor alumni luncheon.
One thing Pitre learned about his new head coach was Ryans owns the Texans’ rookie record with 155 tackles. Pitre, the 37th overall pick last year, finished with 147 tackles – second in team history. Ryans would have been proud if Pitre had broken his record, but Pitre had to settle for a nice consolation prize of being the only player in the NFL with at least 100 tackles and five interceptions.
Pitre has learned a lot about Ryans since he was hired in January to replace Lovie Smith.
“When he played, he was a captain, a leader and a voice for the team, and that shows in the way he’s coaching us,” Pitre said. “He has a lot of energy. He’s interactive. He’s pushing us on a day-to-day basis.”
Ryans, who played six of his 10 seasons with the Texans before being traded to the Eagles, knows Pitre is his kind of player – smart, tenacious and instinctive with a nose for the football – the same traits Ryans had during his playing career.
“He told me during a walk-through to focus on the little things now so when the game speeds up it can still be slow for you,” Pitre said. “He’s very consistent in the message he’s trying to get across.
“I think a good word to describe him is intentional – the way he talks to us to make sure we’re getting everything. He doesn’t let anything slide. He makes sure we’re getting it right before we move on to the next thing. I’m glad that he’s our head coach, and I’m excited to see what the future has instore for us.”
Like his teammates and fans of the Texans, Pitre was thrilled when general manager Nick Caserio used the second pick in the draft on quarterback C.J. Stroud, then traded back into the third spot to take defensive end Will Anderson Jr.
“I was really excited when we drafted C.J. and Will,” Pitre said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with C.J. He’s an intelligent young man. He’s always looking to get better. He knows what he’s talking about. I ran into him away from the stadium, and all he wanted to do was to talk about football. He really cares about the game and the team.”
As a safety, Pitre is going to get a good look at Anderson before and after every snap in practice and games. Anderson, the No. 1 defensive prospect in the draft, is the highest-rated edge rusher the Texans have selected since Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick in 2014.
“Will Anderson – he’s legit,” Pitre said. “When I first saw him in person, I could see why he’s that guy. My teammates that played with him at Alabama – (linebacker) Christian Harris and (receiver) John Metchie – told me about his motor, and I’ve sure been impressed.
“I’m excited to be on the same side of the ball with him, and I’m excited to play with him. I want to line up with guys that play like their hair’s on fired and run to the ball full speed, and that’s Will Anderson.”
At this time last year, Pitre’s head was spinning. He was making the transition from Baylor to the NFL and learning Lovie Smith’s defensive system. Pitre and his parents, Rick and DeVita, couldn’t believe the family’s good fortune to see their son get drafted by their hometown team.
“We were sure hoping, but the odds were one in 32,” Rick Pitre said Friday. “When he got that call, we couldn’t believe it. We were just so excited and thankful and proud.”
When Caserio called, Jalen thought it was a friend playing a prank. When he figured out it really was the Texans, the family started to celebrate. And they haven’t stopped celebrating. They know their son is special on and off the field.
As a rookie, Jalen resided at home with his parents, but he’s finally moved into his own place. He made sure to move close enough to make the short drive to get his mother’s home cooking and his father’s gumbo that might be the best in Houston.
“Hey, I wouldn’t be here without what my parents have done for me,” Pitre said. “I owe them so much.”
Pitre, who was voted Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 when Baylor won the conference title and defeated Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, wants to continue what he started as a rookie. He started 17 games, made a lot of big plays, learned from his mistakes and established himself as a defensive leader.
“I’m always trying to find ways to get better,” he said. “I want to become a better leader on and off the field. One thing I really want to do is to be a guy that my teammates look to when times are tough.”
Pitre knows all about tough times. He played on good and bad teams at Baylor. He played on a 3-13-1 team as a rookie – a record that made him even more determined to never suffer through that kind of experience again.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He writes columns a week and does two Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.