ABOVE: Houston Texans fan pictured at the NFL Draft Party at Miller Outdoor Theatre (Photo by Medron White/Forward Times)
Thursday night marked one of the most highly anticipated events in sports — the NFL Draft. Every year, each NFL team selects from some of the top-rated players in college football. Once drafted, these players move from college to the pros, often creating generational wealth for their families in the process.
This year’s draft took place in Kansas City. But all eyes were on the Houston Texans, who had the No. 2 pick in the draft. Who would they pick? Would they select a quarterback? Or would they beef up Houston’s defense? Watching the draft was the only way to find out.
To mark the occasion, the Houston Texans hosted a draft party at Miller Outdoor Theatre, in Hermann Park. Doors opened for the event at 4 pm, but the Houston Texans Draft Party (hosted by former Texans receiver Cecil Shorts III) officially kicked off at 6:30 pm. The Texans pulled out all the stops.
H-E-B had a “Tailgate Town” with food trucks, concessions, and giveaways and Ford had a Fan Fest with activities for the whole family. Those with tickets to a private party enjoyed covered seating in front of the stage, complimentary food and drinks, and reserved parking. On stage, DJ Vanilla Trill spun records to hype up the crowd, and NFL Network’s coverage of the Draft was shown on a massive onstage screen.
Fans flocked to the event, filling up seats inside the theatre. Behind them, more fans set up blankets and lawn chairs, enjoying the festivities while seated on the hill. Other fans played catch and ran drills with their kids on the side of the hill, beyond the security checkpoint. Texans supporters came decked out in Texans colors of red, white, and navy blue — all illuminated by the day’s brilliant sunshine.
And the party brought special guests, with appearances from Texans president Cal McNair, Texans mascot Toro, and the all-girl Legacy Flag Football Team. Texans defensive backs Jalen Pitre and Derek Stingley, Jr. signed autographs for fans. Former Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus also attended, as did Houston running back Dameon Pierce. Houston rap legends Slim Thug, Bun B, Paul Wall, Z-Ro, and Lil’ Keke all appeared at the party. Just before the draft started, Slim got onstage to perform “Houston,” an anthem for the Texans team.
But the festivities kicked into overdrive at 7 pm. That’s when the 2023 NFL Draft officially began. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell kicked off the draft in Kansas City, coming to the podium to announce the first pick. The Carolina Panthers used their No. 1 pick to draft Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. Then it was Houston’s turn. And they chose a quarterback, too.
“With the second pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select C.J. Stroud, quarterback from Ohio State,” Goodell said.
The crowd erupted in cheers, with Texans fans applauding and waving towels in celebration. Many inside Miller Outdoor Theatre had cell phones in hand to capture the moment.
Back in Kansas City, C.J. Stroud — a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who threw 41 touchdowns last year — walked to the podium with tears in his eyes.
“God has battle-tested me,” he told a reporter. “Everything I’ve been through has prepared me for this moment right here.”
But nobody was prepared for what happened next. Out of nowhere, news broke that the Arizona Cardinals had traded their No. 3 pick to the Houston Texans. Now the Texans possessed the No. 2 and No. 3 picks. Pandemonium broke out inside the theatre as the Houston crowd reacted to the news.
As word spread, so did the question: who would the Texans select with this pick? The answer: a top-tier linebacker and pass rusher (and two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Alabama).
“With the third pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select Will Anderson, Jr.,” Goodell announced.
The crowd roared in approval. A Texans staff member jumped for joy as he hugged a co-worker. A man with a foot-high spiked mohawk clapped emphatically as he walked by.
“LFG!!!” one fan yelled.
After the pick, Houston rapper Lil’ Keke got the crowd on their feet with a performance of his hit “Southside.” After the top five draft picks were announced, Z-Ro came onstage (backed by Texans cheerleaders) to perform “Mo City Don (Freestyle).” Later, he joined Lil’ Keke, Bun B, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug onstage, where they conducted a virtual interview with Stroud and Anderson. Host Cecil Shorts III opened the Q&A, asking: “How do you feel right now?”
“We blessed, man. We’re feeling good. We’re ready to be up in H-Town, ready to be a Texan. We’re super excited,” Stroud said.
Anderson added, “Too blessed, man. We’re so excited we get to work with all the guys.”
Asked what message he had for Texans fans, Stroud answered, “We’re going to bring that juice, that energy. We’re going to flip this thing around. We’re going to make sure that we work hard every day to turn this thing around, get a lot of wins, make the playoffs and, God willing, make that bowl, one of these seasons.”
“Relentless mindset. We’re going to turn this thing around,” Anderson added. “We’re going to be relentless, be fast, be physical on both sides of the ball. We’re going to turn this thing around and have fun doing it.”
Bun B asked the two, “What were you thinking when they said your name?”
“Just thinking about all the hard work, all the things I’ve been through in my life to get to this point. It’s a process, man. It ain’t easy,” Stroud said.
Anderson agreed: “Yeah man, same. Just thinking about everything, thinking about all the favor that God has put over me and my family. Just staying patient, waiting my turn. Being humble. Being hungry and staying motivated.”
Both players spoke on how excited they were to play for Texans head coach (and former Texans player) Demeco Ryans. Judging from the crowd’s reaction, Texans fans are just as excited to see Stroud and Anderson play for him. Their selections bring hope to a Texans fanbase that’s suffered through years of losses (including last year’s 3-13 record).
With Ryans, Stroud, and Anderson on board, fans feel that this could be the year of a turnaround.
Slim said as much when the interview concluded: “It’s our year, Texans! Let’s go!”