From 2002-05, DeMeco Ryans starred at linebacker on the Alabama defense. He won SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior before the Houston Texans selected him in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season.
Fifteen years after Ryans’ final season in Tuscaloosa, Will Anderson Jr. arrived on campus as a freshman in 2020 and put together a similarly decorated season. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2021 and won two SEC Defensive Player of the Year awards. He declared for the draft after his junior season, right around the time the Texans moved to hire Ryans as their next head coach.
Thursday night, Anderson brought home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, just as Ryans did in 2006. It seemed familiar – a former Alabama star linebacker winning Defensive Rookie of the Year for Texans. But that’s just one part of the relationship between Ryans and Anderson, and he talked about what made the Coach of the Year runner-up so special.
“It’s been phenomenal, man,” Anderson told 5GOATs via Zoom from the Panini America VIP event in Las Vegas. “It’s been the best feeling ever to have a head coach who has a foundation, who has structure within the program and knows exactly what he wants. When things go blue, this is the thing that we’re gonna get back to if everything else fails.
“I think that’s what makes him so special because he has that strong foundation to pull the team in, no matter what the circumstances are. And he’s so relatable. He’s been in our seats before, he knows how it is. He’s a player’s coach, and he cares about his players and he loves his players. He just pours all of that passion on to us and it just makes us better.”
Ryans found success right away after taking over for Lovie Smith. Last year, the Texans struggled mightily with a 3-13-1 record before overhauling the staff. They held the No. 2 overall pick and used it on C.J. Stroud, who turned into the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and made Houston the second straight team to have both Rookies of the Year. Houston then made another big move, trading four picks – two in 2023 and two in 2024 – to get the No. 3 selection and take Anderson.
It all paid off. Houston finished 10-7 and won the AFC South as part of the impressive turnaround. As for Ryans, he fell one first-place vote short of winning the NFL’s Coach of the Year award.
But with Stroud and Anderson leading the charge on both sides of the ball, it’s safe to say expectations are going to be high in Houston in 2024 and beyond.