Laremy Tunsil, seated next to his fellow offensive linemen and holding court with a visitor Friday morning, is the mayor of the Texans' locker room.
Everyone shows respect to the big man whose initials mirror his position: LT.
Laremy is just that guy. He's friendly without being overbearing. He's an observer, watching to see how people move and curious about how people think and feel. At an athletic 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Tunsil plays the game with a smooth athleticism and practiced technique more so than the intimidating tactics some less talented blockers utilize.
Tunsil is a big believer on actions speaking volumes, over mere words.
The veteran left tackle, one of the most gifted and expensive blockers in the NFL as a two-time Pro Bowl selection who's arguably manufacturing an All-Pro caliber season, operates with an understated leadership style steeped in respect and empathy. When Tunsil has something important to say, he'll impart his knowledge and advice to teammates. He embraces mentoring, remembering how older teammates Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey counseled him when he was a rookie for the Miami Dolphins.
It's something of an art form of knowing what to say, when to say it and when, simply, to remain quiet and provide an example of leadership through his deeds of stonewalling pass rushers to capably keep quarterback Davis Mills standing and athletically clearing a pathway for rookie running back Dameon Pierce to bust through.
On a 1-6-1 team heading into Sunday's road game against the New York Giants, Tunsil is one of the few bright spots through his play and his attitude. That's one reason why Tunsil was named a permanent offensive team captain and has the C captain's badge now stenciled into his No. 78 jersey.
Tunsil achieved that status for the remainder of the season prior to the Texans' game last week against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles as he replaced Brandin Cooks when the wide receiver missed the game for personal reasons after expressing displeasure at not being moved off the roster at the NFL trade deadline.
Tunsil is embracing his captaincy, another nod of respect toward one of the best players on a team that's in a rebuilding mode.
"It means a lot," Tunsil said Friday at his locker stall. "Being my first time as a captain of a team, it means a lot to me, man. I feel like I deserved it. My teammates think I deserved it. That's why I got the C."
Defining Tunsil's leadership style isn't about rah-rah speeches. It's about quiet excellence. Tunsil makes sure he's done his job, and performed his daily tasks. When he feels it's the right time, he talks with teammates about how to help them do their job and reach their potential.
"Absolutely, I try to lead by example," Tunsil said. "I don't try to say too much. If I have something to say, I will pull them to the side and talk to them. That's the type of teammate I am. Not the hoo-rah guy. I go about my work as best I can."
Mentoring younger players like Texans rookie left guard Kenyon Green, a first-round draft pick from Texas A&M and Atascosita High School is significant to Tunsil.
"I embrace it a lot," Tunsil said. "That's what I had coming into the league as a rookie. I had guys like Brandon Albert and Mike Pouncey who always mentored me as a rookie. That helps me a lot, so I try to pass that on to the young guys."
Tunsil is having an outstanding season. He has allowed just six pressures this season, tying for third least in the league. Tunsil has a 90.9 pass blocking grade, ranking second overall in the NFL, according to the analytics site, Pro Football Focus. He has allowed one sack, two hits and three hurries.
Tunsil is the second highest paid player on the roster in terms of compensation this year, $17.7 million behind wide receiver Cooks’ $18.5 million total compensation.
That’s how valuable Tunsil is as one of the top blockers in the NFL. The Texans restructured Tunsil’s contract this offseason, moving forward with him as their top offensive lineman, converting his $17.85 million salary into a $16.815 million bonus with $1.035 million as his new salary. His 2023 salary of $18.5 million is unchanged after previously signing a three-year, $66 million contract after joining the Texans, a blockbuster deal he helped negotiate along with his advisors.
A year ago, Tunsil underwent thumb surgery and didn't play again after being placed on injured reserve after five games. This year, Tunsil hasn't missed a snap and has emerged as a team leader who loves playing for a team that needs more contributors like him.
Tunsil has proven to the organization that he's all-in. He made it a point before the trade deadline to communicate to friends and other key people that he had no desire to be traded. He wants to be in Houston on a long-term basis.
“It’s very important," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "There’s a reason why you pay, look at how much you’re paying each player. The one you’re paying the most money to, it’s critical that they’re on board with what you’re doing.
"That’s been the case with the guys that I’ve been around here. They’re pros with what they do. LT has been that way throughout, showed up every day, done a good job, great player, good teammate, all of that.”
Tunsil has built a strong relationship with Smith. There's a mutual respect and admiration between the former Dolphins first-round draft pick from Mississippi and Smith, a former NFL Coach of the Year with the Chicago Bears.
"That's my guy," Tunsil said. "Lovie is a good dude. He's a leader. He knows how to get things done."
In 2019, the Dolphins traded Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-round pick to the Texans in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, cornerback Johnson Bademosi and offensive lineman Julién Davenport.
Although it was a hefty price to pay by former Texans coach and general manager Bill O'Brien in terms of giving up valuable draft capital, Tunsil has performed at a high level and stabilized a critical position that had lacked an established presence since trading former Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown to the Seattle Seahawks.
And Tunsil has become a big part of the Houston community through his philanthropy along with a tight inner circle that includes his brother Alex Weber, a personal trainer and yoga instructor who played wide receiver at Mississippi with his older sibling, business manager and close friend Laolu Sanni of Divine Tree LLC and friend and business advisor Saint Omni.
Tunsil is an aficionado of music, especially Sade, cologne, Yves Saint Laurent is one of his favorites, and gourmet food -- Guard and Grace is one of his top local spots -- with an eye for fashion who's known as a swaggy big man with his eye-popping game-day outfits, is thoroughly enjoying Texas after growing up in Lake City, Fla.
"I do, I love Houston man ever since I got here when I got traded from Miami in 2019," Tunsil said. "They embraced me with open arms. I always appreciate that, man. Coaches, front office, to the team ,they embrace me. So, I appreciate that."
Sharing a huddle, conversations and meeting rooms with Tunsil can be a quiet experience. He also provides a comforting experience through his play and his ultra-confident approach to the game.
Tunsil has made Mills' transition to the NFL a smoother one as he continues to learn on the job in his second year as the starting quarterback.
"Obviously, with me coming in last year as a young guy, he was one of the vets on the team," Mills said. "He’s not a real outspoken guy, but the longer I’ve been here, the closer I’ve gotten to him. Just know that he is coming in every day, being a professional, putting his best foot forward. We know what we’re going to get from him because he’s, if not the best, one of the best left tackles in the league right now."
What's it like to be around Tunsil?
“The biggest thing you feel from him is his confidence," Mills said. "He’s just going to go out there and lock down whoever is facing him on defense every play. I think that kind of echoes around the offensive line, knowing that, ‘Hey, it’s on us. We’ve got to win our one-on-ones so we can get some time and make a play downfield.’
"He’s not a loud-spoken guy, so he’s leading by example and everyone kind of feeds off of that. He’s done that well, and that’s obviously why he’s got the captain’s badge on his jersey.”
As positive as Tunsil has remained despite the Texans' inability to finish close games, losing takes a toll on everyone as competitive professional athletes. Tunsil's plan: stay the course, make the best out of each situation and, hopefully, win games and earn the elusive All-Pro recognition he wants.
"I think the main thing for us is just staying consistent and staying consistent for us is going to hopefully help us win games," Tunsil said. "Just keep playing my game, keep stacking them. My biggest thing is staying consistent."
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.