When Shane Lechler takes to the field Christmas Day for the Houston Texans, it could possibly be the last time he does that for the home team.
At age 41, he is the fourth-oldest player in the NFL and is at the end of his contract with the Texans. What happens after the final play in Indianapolis on Dec. 31 when the Texans conclude their season is very much in the air.
“I don’t know. I play each Sunday one at a time,” he said. “I don’t take any of them for granted and I don’t know, we’ll see. All I know is I’m on a one-year deal so we’ll see at the end of the year how I feel and what avenue I’ll take.”
Lechler is one of the Texans most valuable players, but almost nobody likes it when he gets into the game. As the punter, when he comes onto the field it means an offensive drive has stalled and it’s time to turn the ball over to the opposition. It’s comforting to know, however, that few in the National Football League are better at pinning and opponent deep on their end of the field than Lechler.
It’s something he’s been doing for 17 years in the NFL. Born in Sealy in 1976, Lechler grew up in East Bernard. At East Bernard High School he was a four-sport athlete, standing out in football, basketball, baseball and golf. In football he was a quarterback, placekicker and punter. In his senior year he led the Brahmas to the state quarterfinals. As a punter he averaged 41.6 yards per punt with a personal best of 85 yards.
A few years ago East Bernard retired his number.
“They retired the jersey. That was a big honor. I was very excited to have that happen,” he said.
Moving on to college, Lechler went to Texas A&M. There he was a freshman All-American in 1996, averaging 42.7 yards per punt. The next year his average rose to 47, followed by a 46.5 average his junior year. He finished his collegiate career with an NCAA record 44.7 yards per punt. In college he only had one kick blocked and one returned for a touchdown.
Lechler was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2000 and there became one of the premier punters in NFL history. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He was voted All-Pro in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Lechler holds the NFL record for best average per punt in a career (47.3). As a Raider he had his career best average in 2009 with 51.5 yards per punt. He has earned numerous NFL awards and played in Super Bowl XXXVII. In 2009 he signed a four-year deal with the Raiders for $12 million, making him the highest-paid punter in NFL history.
“I was with the Raiders for 13 years so we went through some really good years when I first got there and some really bad years the rest of the time so, like I said, I was very fortunate to be here (Houston) and very happy to be here and I needed that change at that time of my career,” he said.
He signed a three-year Contract with the Texans in 2013 worth $5.5 million with a $1 million signing bonus. That season Lechler became just the sixth player in NFL history to reach the 50,000 punt-yard mark.
“It’s something that I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to play here and I’m grateful to Rick (Smith) and Mr. (Bob) McNair and those guys for giving me the chance and you know it’s good,” he said. “My family gets to see me play and it’s just good to be in the state of Texas.”
Last season he signed a one-year contract for $1.3 million and then did a one-year extension for this season. Unfortunately for Texans fans, Lechler has been called on a lot this season, as numerous injuries to key players have left the team with a 4-10 record with two games remaining. Ironically, after 70 punts (prior to Sunday’s game in Jacksonville), he has had his best average yards per punt (49.2) since 2011 when he was a Raider.
Lechler said injuries are part of the game and every team must learn to deal with them.
“We all put in the work, you know. It’s a next man up league, that’s how it is. There’s injuries all across the league, so we just have to dial it in and everybody’s who’s healthy has to step it up a notch and we go from there,” he said.
Although the offence and defense have been decimated by injuries, the Texans have been strong on special teams, thanks largely to the kicking tandem of Lechler and placekicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. As kickers they work closely together and Lechler holds the ball for him on extra points and field goals.
“He’s doing great. It’s his first year kicking and he’s doing a solid job,” Lechler said of Fairbairn. “He’s a very talented kicker and I think the future’s very bright for him.”
Although they are at opposite ends of their careers, Lechler doesn’t see himself as a mentor.
“We work together. I don’t really mentor him. If he asks questions I try to answer them the best I can. But other than that I think we work well together and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Although football is a young man’s game, longevity in the sport is primarily the domain of kickers. The three oldest players are placekickers (Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis is the oldest at 44), followed by Lechler at 41. New England quarterback Tom Brady is the only non-kicker in the top five.
The offseason could be a tumultuous one for the Texans and Lechler as both ponder their needs. Although Lechler is in great shape to keep going, he seems to be content if his football career comes to an end. That would free him to spend more time with his wife Erin (who was an All-American volleyball player for Texas A&M) and their children, as well as more time to pursue a different kind of sport.
“I hunt and fish every chance I get,” he said, adding, “I coach my kids’ softball teams and try to travel as much as I can.”