The Crimson Caravan is gearing up to make it's eighth and final…
The Crimson Caravan is gearing up to make it's eighth and final…
Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Educational …
The 50th Super Bowl will be held in the San Francisco Bay Area …
The San Antonio Spurs hope to match their offensive fireworks …
Jennifer Johnson got a hug and congratulations from the …
Updated: Friday, 31 Aug 2012, 12:24 PM CDT
Published : Friday, 31 Aug 2012, 12:24 PM CDT
MOBILE, Ala. (USA Media) - If there’s one thing members of the University of South Alabama football program have learned about running back Kendall Houston, it’s that he’s a man of few words.
Instead, the Mobile native let’s his actions on the field speak for him. And make no mistake about it, it’s not just his fellow Jaguars who have felt the impact Houston can have.
“Kendall does lock in and listen to you, he’s a guy that when you tell him something he does it. He’s a real good character kid, one of the highest we have on the team,” explained Jaguar head coach Joey Jones. “But when he gets on the field, it’s like he has got this little Tasmanian devil in him; it’s hard to get a hold of him. Kendall breaks tackles because he is real violent at the point of attack. When someone hits him it’s almost like a pinball, they bounce off of him. I’ve seen him take so many licks and not get knocked down, he’s got tremendous balance and is able to keep his feet moving.”
“Kendall has a mind-set that he is not looking for who is going to tackle him but how to break a tackle and keep moving,” added Tommy Perry, the Jags’ running backs coach. “There have a been a couple of games where I have seen him take a shot, and another shot, and another shot and he stays up — it’s unbelievable. He’s got that ability to stay on his feet, he’s got really good balance and he can take a lick, keep those feet moving and keep moving on.
“It’s a distinct trait that he has.”
This is nothing new to Houston, or those who have followed him since his first days in the sport back when he was five years old. He claims to always have been quiet — “It was the way I was raised, I didn’t talk in front of a lot of people,” Houston recalled — but also to have loved the physical contact of running inside. Not to mention his fondness for hitting an opposing linebacker.
Over the years Houston has proven to be tough for the opposition to handle, but he would prove how durable he is late last fall. He carried for a team-high 83 yards on 17 rushes on Oct. 22 in a double-overtime contest at Georgia State, but also took a hit on his knee in that game that would limit him the final month of the season. Houston recorded 16 attempts in the Jaguars’ final three contests of 2011, appearing on the team’s injury report the Monday prior to the finale against Cal Poly. After an MRI performed following that contest, it was discovered that he suffered osteochondritis dissecans; the injury — only a dislocated knee may be considered worse — required that he undergo surgery on Dec. 14, and he was held out of spring practice.
According to the USA Sports Medicine staff it is a procedure that typically requires nine months to recover from — many individuals never play again, particularly linemen — however Houston was cleared to return to all football activities on July 30, just seven-and-a-half months later.
“He came back from a pretty tough injury,” Perry stated. “He has bounced back from the surgery, really worked hard. He is a quiet guy who works hard, comes in with his hard hat, punches in and punches out every day.”
Despite the setback late last season, Houston was still able to lead the Jaguars with 558 rushing yards while scoring eight touchdowns. The highlight of the year was a season-best 117-yard performance in the program’s first-ever contest against an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponent at North Carolina State, and he scored twice in victories over West Alabama — both came in the second half — and Tennessee-Martin while pacing the team in rushing on both occasions.
The redshirt sophomore — who now stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 220 pounds — did not surprise Jag followers with the performance, seeing how he recorded a team-best 891 yards, averaged 6.4 yards per run and reached the end zone 10 times during the 2010 campaign. After Brandon Ross was felled by a knee injury midway through the year against Missouri S&T, Houston stepped into the starter’s role and proceeded to run for over 100 yards in four of the final five contests, gaining 166 in a win at Lamar and career-high 175 to help USA defeat Georgia State.
Experiencing success on a football field was not new to Houston. He began in the sport as a five-year-old, also playing basketball and baseball as a child before dropping the latter two to focus on football and the possibility of earning a college scholarship when he got to high school. As a freshman he attended Blount High, transferring to Vigor High School for the final three years of his prep career.
He rushed for 2,190 yards and 25 scores as a senior at VHS, earning first-team all-state honors while making the Orlando Sentinel’s All-Southern Team. With 180 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries against Russellville High, he closed out his career by leading the Wolves to the 2008 state 5A championship and a 15-0 finish.
“I have always been a power back, but when I was in high school I basically did it all,” recalled Houston. “It [the state title] felt
great because everyone was behind us. One of my brothers used to talk about winning a championship because when he played for Blount they won one back in the day, so I wanted to get one too.”
Houstonwas originally recruited by Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas State, but after the first two backed off he attended prep school in the fall of 2009 then enrolled at ASU for the spring semester. He took part in spring drills with the Red Wolves, but as the third running back on the depth chart leading Houston to decide he wanted to leave. “They have a good program, but I was the third running back so I wasn’t getting the reps I am getting now,” he said. “I called my high school coach and told him to call coach Jones and tell him I was interested in coming to USA.”
It didn’t take long for the Jaguar coaching staff to respond. Less than 24 hours, in fact.
“We talked to Kerry Stevenson at Vigor, and he mentioned that Kendall was interested in coming back home,” Jones explained. “The ball started rolling at that point, and we went through the process so that he was able to transfer here. We’re certainly very glad to have him.”
Although he has gained nearly 1,500 yards rushing the last two years, Houston — and the rest of the Jags returning on offense — have been making the adjustment to a new spread attack being installed by first-year coordinator Robert Matthews. While there are expectations of USA moving the ball more frequently through the air this fall, he believes that Houston will still play a key role for the Jaguars.
“I expect Kendall to function well in this system, he’s a very talented running back,” said Matthews. “People have misconceptions that the spread [offense] is all about passing the football, but that’s not going to be the case for us. We want to run the ball just as much as we throw it. So he will have a vital role; we really need Kendall to have a good season.”
“The offense is pretty good, but I have had to come out here every day and get the concept of the offense in order to get better,” Houston explained. “I think I can be a good fit.”
Thus far, his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by Matthews. “Kendall has really expanded his knowledge since the beginning of camp, and is a guy that you can say has gotten better every day,” he stated. “He has learned more — and picks it up better — every day, so he will be thrown in there full time and expected to know what to do on every play, and I think he will be able to do that.”
Overcoming challenges is nothing new to Houston, though. Not only has he bounced back from last year’s knee injury, but he has made tremendous progress in the classroom as well, recording grade-point averages of 2.75 and 3.00 in the last two semesters.
In fact, Houston earned the program’s most improved academic award following the spring semester.
“It feels good. I knew that in order to play I had to get my grades, the coaches were always stressing that,” Houston commented. “But now, they don’t really talk to me about grades. I wanted to make a 3.0 [grade-point average], so I had to stay in study-hall mode and get into my books more. My academic advisor had the syllabus for each of my classes so she would know what I had to do, and every week she would remind me what I had to get done.
“I would stay in study hall for at least three hours to make sure that I did.”
Houstonmight not hear much from the coaching staff anymore regarding his classwork, it doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the strides he has made academically.
“It’s a great story. Kendall was never a bad kid, he had to learn how to succeed in college,” observed Perry. “It really was hard work, and he learned how to apply himself in study hall and back in his dorm; he’s not a slacker, he just had to learn how to deal with a college course load because it’s pretty different from high school. This is one of the best stories we have on our team, the way Kendall has resurrected his grades.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of Kendall for what he has done in the classroom,” Jones added. “Certainly what he has done on the field has been great —all our fans see that — but seeing a kid who has made the strides that he has in the classroom, to do that I know that myself and the staff are extremely proud of him. We have others who are doing well [academically] too, but he has made the most improvement of anybody in this program. I talked about Kendall in front of the team the other day; he made his mind up that this was what he was going to do, and because he made his mind up it all happened.
“When a young man makes his mind up that he is going to get his degree he can do it — Kendall has proven that, he is a great example for others to look at.”
While it has been established that Houston is one of the quieter individuals in the USA football program, it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been able to have an impact off the field for the Jaguars too. “He takes a lot of things in,’ Perry explained. “You have to ask him, ‘Kendall,
did you get that?’ and he’ll nod and say ‘Yes sir.’ He’s just a quiet, soft-spoken guy. If he does say something, everyone will get quiet and listen to him. So he will talk a little, but just not much.”
In the future he has an interest in joining the coaching ranks, working toward that goal by mentoring other Jag running backs. And thanks to his efforts with a newcomer in the backfield, he might just be getting a head start in the profession.
Terrance Timmons — also a native Mobilian — began his collegiate career at Jacksonville State last fall, but returned home and joined the USA program. Although the two didn’t know each other well as children, they did grow up in the same neighborhood, so it is Houston he turned to for guidance.
“We clicked from the first day. When I transferred here, he took me under his wing,” said Timmons. “Anything I needed he got for me, and he stayed on me about class; even though I wasn’t eligible, he always made sure I was doing what I needed to do on the field too.
“Out here Kendall is just quiet, but when we get in the car or are home, he’s loud. He has the soft voice, but you can still hear him,” he continued. “He laughs, he plays, he likes to joke around. Sometimes I can get him to come out [of his shell] in the meeting room and joke around. Around here you aren’t going to hear too much from him, but outside of this he’s a nice guy.
“I think he’s just shy, that’s what it is.”
That may be the case off the field, but Houston has certainly established that on it he enjoys te physical contact — much to the chagrin of the opposition.
-- USA media
Newsgathered salutes all of those who have fought for our country, and all …