- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- Miles Austin said things haven't really changed.
In 2008, Austin had 278 receiving yards for the season, his third with the Dallas Cowboys. In his first start NFL start, against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 of 2009, he gained a Cowboys-record 250 receiving yards.
By the time the 2009 season had ended, Austin had totaled 11 touchdown receptions with 1,320 yards, pushing him into the Pro Bowl. He entered the season with 18 career catches and exited it with 99.
Then it happened.
Pictures popped up on Bossip and TMZ.
He was walking down the street with a Yankees baseball cap pulled down low as a girl walked in front of him.
That same girl jumped into a cab with Austin after they left a restaurant in New York.
That girl is Kim Kardashian, the reality TV star.
"Hey, Miles is the American Idol," inside linebacker Bradie James said. "I wish he were on 'American Idol.' It's like taking somebody that worked at the Container Store in the closet and now he's an American Idol. That's only in America and only on America's Team that you can do that. We're very happy for Miles. He's still level-headed. Miles is still the same guy, it's just people like him now."
He can't really head out at night without someone taking a picture of him with Kardashian.
And Austin seems to be taking everything in stride. He's playful when asked about his life away from the field.
Take this exchange I had with him following a Sunday morning practice:
Has it surprised you that you can't walk down the street?
"I can walk down the street."
But cameras are following you. Does it surprise you a little bit?
"Not really, it's all right."
Is that because of who you're with or just in general?
When you saw the pictures pop up, did your dad call you and say, "What are you doing?"
"I don't know what pictures you're talking about, really."
When pictures came out with you and Kim, did your boys go, "Dude you're all over the Internet"?
"I don't even know. I don't even see the pictures, so none of my friends really hit me up about it."
Austin smiled that smile of his when he talked.
He always seems to know what you're talking about but won't engage you too seriously. He takes the safe way out, and that's fine, because whom a player dates or whom he's married to is nobody's business.
The reason it came up is just another indication of how suddenly his fame has grown.
Tony Romo, the quarterback who burst onto the scene in 2006 and dated a few women everybody seems to know, can relate to what Austin is going through.
"I don't think it's that big a challenge," Romo said. "Too much is made out of some of the other stuff that goes into it. I mean the difference, once you start playing and playing at a decent level, is that people start talking about you. Miles has been doing the same things he was doing before. It's just now when people see him they take his picture or they write about it."
The only picture Austin will acknowledge is the Sports Illustrated cover. He was put on there twice in one calendar year.
Austin said he grabbed the most recent one on his way to training camp last Friday and was pleased with the story.
On the field, Austin seems to be the same guy: a player who can beat you with his quickness and power.
In a three-receiver set, the Cowboys like to put Austin in the slot so he can get a one-on-one matchup. Austin has the ability to break tackles for long gains when matched up in single coverage. Austin is also good at double moves, allowing him to get downfield for long pass plays.
He still has work to do, like getting off the line of scrimmage faster, running cleaner routes and using his hands more while catching the ball.
All those things happen in due time. Besides, he just got here.
He seems in better shape this year than last year. The team wanted him at 214 pounds and he's 212. He plans on playing the season at 208.
"Everything has been pretty much the same for me," he said. "I've been doing the same thing. I guess more people are paying attention now."
When asked if he thought he was a star he said, "No. I got a star on my helmet, but that's about it."
Sam Hurd, next to Romo, knows Austin the best. They broke in as undrafted rookies in 2006 and learned under Bill Parcells that in order to make the roster, you had to play well on special teams and keep your mouth shut and listen.
Hurd talks to Austin quite often and said he hasn't seen any changes in his teammate with his newfound stardom.
"That's my boy, but I don't know his [stuff] away from the field," Hurd said. "I don't get on the Internet to watch all of that. I don't watch no TMZ, E! [on television]. I don't watch none of that, I can hear it but I don't know nothing. I don't ask Miles nothing personal like that. That's his own life and I let him live that."
Ray Sherman, the Cowboys' receivers coach, is the one who pushes Austin the most. Sherman was one of only two men scouting Austin's pro day at Monmouth College back in 2006, and he loved the potential he saw. In 2006, Sherman was coaching receivers for the Tennessee Titans. He begged the Titans to draft Austin. Or at least sign him.
Sherman has seen Austin go from fifth string to starter and isn't worried about the sudden fame.
"Because one thing he can do is separate the personal life from the football," Sherman said. "When he's out here, he's focused on football. I don't ever get involved in their personal lives unless we feel like it's affecting us, but he's not going to let it. Knowing him, I don't think he's going to let it affect his [game]. He hasn't done that so far."
You can't help but notice Austin's smile or the attention he's getting. He's enjoying the moment, which is what Romo said a few years ago about becoming a star without ever really saying it.
Austin has to perform better this year because he wants a new contract. You talk to people in the organization, and they tell you 2010 will duplicate 2009.
Austin doesn't know what opposing defenses will do to him this season, saying politely, "You have to ask them."
There are questions about Austin.
Can he gain 1,000-plus yards again? Will he make an impact when defenses employ Cover 2 on him? Will he get free on a consistent basis when jammed at the line of scrimmage? Will he open the way for the other receivers to see more opportunities if defenses are taking him away?
"Statistically, who knows what's going to happen," he said. "But I know my effort will be the same or higher."