SAN ANTONIO -- Miles Austin insists he's the same as always, despite his quick rise from relative unknown to Pro Bowl receiver, the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated and Kim Kardashian companion.
"I've been doing the same things. It's just that more people are paying attention now," Austin said Sunday, trying to convince reporters and cameras surrounding him that he feels no different from when people didn't even notice him less than a year ago. "I've got the star on my helmet. But that's about it."
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Yet, Austin no longer comes on the field at Dallas Cowboys training camp without fanfare. There are plenty of cheers when he emerges from the tunnel and catches passes from Tony Romo.
The New Jersey native is recognized in public now and certainly is photographed when he keeps certain company -- though Austin and Kardashian, the reality TV star who is New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush's former girlfriend, are coy about whether they are actually dating.
"It's like taking somebody working at The Container Store in the closet and now he's the American Idol," Cowboys teammate Bradie James said of Austin. "That's only in America and only on America's Team that you can do that. ... Miles is still levelheaded. Miles is still the same guy. People like him now, more people."
Entering his fifth NFL season, the former undrafted receiver from tiny Monmouth College is no longer primarily a kick returner who occasionally has a pass thrown his way.
Austin has emerged as Romo's favorite target -- and a problem for defensive coordinators league-wide. Plus, he's in line for a big new contract.
Austin signed a one-year, $3.168 million tender in June, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones repeatedly has said the team wants to sign the receiver to a long-term deal.
So much has changed since Austin, filling in for injured Roy Williams, made his first NFL start last October at Kansas City. Austin finished with 10 catches for 250 yards against the Chiefs to break the Cowboys' single-game yardage record, set by Hall of Fame receiver "Bullet Bob" Hayes in 1966. Austin also scored two late touchdowns, including a 60-yarder in overtime.
It was quite a breakout performance for Austin, who entered the game with 23 career catches, including five in the first four games last season.
Austin's encore was six catches for 171 yards and two more TDs in Dallas' next game. He went on to finish the season with 81 catches for 1,320 yards, sixth-best in team history and the sixth-best by any undrafted receiver in the NFL.
"I pretty much have the same confidence (as before)," Austin said. "Don't get me wrong, I was getting more opportunities last year, and hopefully I'll get as many opportunities this year. Obviously other people are probably going to hold some sort of standard, but my standard really is just work."
Romo, another undrafted player from a small school and who knows something about NFL stardom and celebrity, agreed that Austin hasn't changed much.
"Too much is made out of some of the other stuff that goes into it," Romo said. "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."
Austin was a rookie when he started catching passes from Romo in 2006, even before the quarterback took over as the starter seven games into that season.
Instead of extra reps on the practice field, Romo and Austin now are hooking up for real for the defending NFC East champions, who have Super Bowl expectations.
Asked if it would be tough to repeat what they did last year, Austin responded, "No, not really" and quickly indicated he wasn't specifically talking about numbers.
"Statistically, who knows what's going to happen. But I know my effort is going to be the same or higher," Austin said. "That's just what I plan on doing, working hard every day. I'm doing the same things. I'm not changing anything."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press