"We're going to live and die by Ryan Houston," said Matthews (N.C.) Butler head football coach Mike Newsome. "We can run the ball with him and then we can use him in play action situations and throw the ball really well. This team is going to go as Ryan Houston goes."
Houston already feels the pressure, but revealed it's nothing new for the Scout.com four-star prospect.
"It's a lot of pressure," said Houston. "But, I've been playing varsity since the ninth grade. I've been looked up to since the ninth grade, so I'm ready."
In addition to touching the ball 25-to-30 times a game in Butler's multiple spread offense, Houston will see his role increase on defense.
"It's going to be situational, but he's going to be playing a prominent part on defense," said Newsome. "We did it towards the end of the season last year. He's going to have a bigger role especially on pass rush situations and critical down situations."
Heading into the season, the one obvious worry is Houston's health. Although he's never missed a game with an injury, Houston skipped out on most off-season activities including camps and combines with hamstring problems.
"I'm going to pray every night that nothing new comes up," said Houston. "But right now I'm feeling good – I'm 100-percent. I can't wait until we scrimmage next week."
With a talented group of juniors assisting Houston, the Bulldogs' 2006 squad should accomplish more than the 2005 version.
"I think we're going to be a better team than we were last year," said Newsome. "We were 10-3 last year; lost twice to Independence and once to Providence – what I consider two of the best teams in the state of North Carolina."
Beating archrival Independence and ending the Patriots' 92-game winning streak is among the major goals of the season.
"I really feel like we have a team – barring injury – that can really give Independence another run," said Newsome. "When we get to that game – the last game of the season – we'll see. We've got to concentrate on our non-conference schedule and then go through our conference schedule before we get to those guys."
To avoid distractions during the season, Houston verbally committed to North Carolina in June. He made his first visit as a pledge during the Tar Heels' big unofficial visit weekend in July.
"That weekend was crazy," said Houston. "Me, [Mike] Paulus, Dwight Jones, Lansford Watson – we just all were hanging out, getting to know each other. It was real fun, it was a great group of guys, [and] I can't wait to go play football with them."
Houston continues to keep in contact with the aforementioned recruits, and downplayed the solidness of Watson's recent verbal commitment to Maryland.
"I don't think it's firm at all," said Houston. "I'm not saying he's going to come to Carolina or not, I'm just saying when he was up at Carolina he seemed like he enjoyed himself. Hopefully we can get him to change his mind."
As a junior at Matthews (N.C.) Butler High School, Houston was named to the All-Conference and Charlotte Observer All-Area teams after accumulating 1,910 yards and 34 touchdowns.