Up Close: Ryan Houston, Part I

MATTHEWS, N.C. -- Richmond County coach Ed Emory was recently discussing his choices for this year's Shrine Bowl roster with Butler coach Mike Newsome. Emory wasn't sure if 6-3, 250-something tailback Ryan Houston had the breakaway speed he was looking for. To which Newsome replied, "What's the matter, coach? You don't want 10 yards per carry?"

Houston is a load in the backfield -- and depending on what time of the day you ask him, Newsome will give Houston's weight ranging anywhere from 250, to 255 to 260. And he can't hang his hat on blazing speed either.

What Houston can do is take over a game in the trenches. He can make defenders miss, and he can plow them over. And despite obligatory talk of moving him to defensive end, Houston sincerely believes he's the Tar Heels' future tailback.

"Hopefully, I'll bring a good running game to the table," Houston told Inside Carolina at his school last week. "We've got a good quarterback coming in, Mike Paulus – that's my buddy. I know he can throw the ball. I just hope I can share an equal part with me running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield."

Trailing East Mecklenburg, 19-0, late in the third quarter of last season's Homecoming Game, Newsome pulled Houston aside for instructions.

Newsome said, "Ryan, you're going to have to make something happen here. You're going to have to carry us."

On first play of the next possession, Houston scored on a 55-yard touchdown run. When Butler got the ball back to start the fourth quarter, Houston went in from 75 yards out.

But East Mecklenburg still led, 19-13.

"On our next possession, we faked it to Ryan and threw an 85-yard touchdown pass," Newsome said. "He sold it. When we faked it to him, they all bit on it and we completed one over the middle."

Now ahead, 20-19, Butler had to make a final defensive stand to hold on to the win and improve to 9-1 on the season. East Mecklenburg had moved down the field to the Butler one-yard line with just one second left. Houston took charge once again, proving what he could do on defense.

"He stuffed the right side of the line," Butler linebackers coach Chris Fielding said. "Ryan stood up two other players and then the rest of the team converged."

The opposing runner then fumbled the ball away in his own backfield to cap a stunning Butler comeback.

"He is a competitor," Newsome said of Houston's ability to impact the game. "He competes. That's what he does."

As a junior, Houston rang up 1,914 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns. He also had 256 receiving yards.

"He does things that 260-pound running backs aren't supposed to do; that's what's amazing," Newsome said. "He does things you see smaller backs do. The coach from Penn State was in the office and watching some film on him, and he had one play where he made nine people miss.

"He'll also bulldoze into the line, pop out the other side and go for 25 yards. He's got some of the best feet I've seen on any running back of any size. He sees the hole very well. His explosion…he's our fastest guy in the 10-yard dash."

And in limited duty at defensive end – only about 30 snaps - Houston still managed six tackles.

Stay tuned for Part II coming tomorrow…

Ryan Houston

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