Not Counting Himself Out

His name hasn't been mentioned by the Wisconsin coaches in the short conversation about who could start at quarterback, but Bart Houston is hoping his play over the past week will open some eyes.

MADISON - Dating back to midsummer, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said that three quarterbacks – Curt Phillips, Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy – would be the one considered for the starting job when fall camp began.

Redshirt freshman Bart Houston didn't take offense to be excluded. Up until this week, he had never heard of it.

"It didn't bother me because I didn't know about it," said Houston. "I came into camp trying to win the starting job like everybody else."

Houston came into Wisconsin with high expectations for himself, and so did the majority of the Wisconsin fan base. A four-star prep athlete and one of the seventh-best quarterback in the country for his recruiting class, Houston went 38-1 as a starter, won three state championships and threw for over 5,000 yards.

But Houston didn't get any reps or time invested in him last season due to his offseason shoulder surgery and when finally cleared and started throwing December 1, Houston barely got any work with Wisconsin preparing for a third-straight Rose Bowl.

When he finally started competing in spring practices, he had gone almost 15 months without throwing competitively, and the results mirrored the layoff.

"I was not a very good quarterback," said Houston of his spring. "I was literally thrown into the fire. It was a little bit quicker than I remember. I had to get use to it somehow somewhere.

"I was trying to show off my arm. Everybody knows I am the gunslinger of the group. I want to be that, but I don't want to be that. I want to be the controlled gunslinger. I want to make the right reads rather than chuck the ball 70 yards in the air."

Because of his spring disappointment, summer was vital to Houston. Not only did he enter the summer conditioning program having shaken off most of the rust and starting to understand the new offense, Houston knew that he needed to focus on footwork. Instead of tackling it all at once, Houston spent the first few weeks of summer working on his first step, the next few weeks on the second step and so forth.

"I was the slowest quarterback footwork wise just because I was rusty and all," said Houston. "Every day I thought of one thing that would help my game and that's what I did day by day."

That work started to pay off when the redshirt freshman entered week two of fall practices in sync. He impressed onlookers with his throws, showed better mobility in the pocket and got more work with the second-team offense, outshining McEvoy at points throughout the week with better passes. "There are good plays when I shine and other plays where I make bonehead freshman mistakes," said Houston. "I just have to eliminate those as quickly as possible because it's my second year now." And while youth is sometimes a detriment to players, it served Houston well. Because of his injury last season, Houston spent more time rehabilitating and strengthening his arm than diving head first into the playbook. By the time he was ready to start learning the playbook, most of the offensive coaching staff changed, and so did the playbook for the second year in a row.

So when he watched offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's voice-over film during the summer, it was easy learning.

"Danny (O'Brien) last year had gone through so many coaching changes that when we said ‘sword,' he'd go through his mind and remember that was ‘mallard' one year and ‘viper' the year after," said Houston. "Different terminology didn't help. I was lucky enough that I didn't have to play, which is a bad thing to say, but I didn't have to completely forget everything and bring it back in."

While Houston isn't oblivious of how the repetitions have been divided up over the first two weeks of camp, but still feels that if could make some headway if he keeps progressing and building off the strides he made in Monday's scrimmage.

"Right now it's Joel and Curt that are fighting to start, but I talked to Coach Ludwig and he said that I am doing great, keep doing what I am doing and keep focusing on my feet and good things will happen," said Houston. "Right now I have a big target on the No.3 spot and once I get that, then it's No.2 and then No.1."


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