Houston Has Lone Focus

After getting his body, and his arm, back into game shape, quarterback Bart Houston has a simple goal heading into his redshirt sophomore season - become the starter under center for Wisconsin.

A three-time state champion, an Elite 11 quarterback and a 38-1 career record as a starter during his prep career, Bart Houston can count on one hand how many times he's been humbled when it comes to playing football.

So he naturally felt that he would be able to pick up right where he left off following shoulder surgery that forced him to redshirt during the 2012 season.

"I was coming back and I thought I would be just as I was before surgery," said Houston. "I thought I could come back at 100 percent and just take the starting job."

It turned out to be easier said than done. Houston used the word "frustrated" to describe his preparations for the 2013 season. He was rusty throughout spring camp and quickly fell off the pace being set by sixth-year senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave, becoming the team's third-string quarterback.

He showed some promise in the fall, showcasing the arm strength that allowed him to complete 62.2 percent of his passes for 5,178 yards and 46 touchdowns at De La Salle High outside San Francisco, but Houston never was in position to challenge for the starting role.

"It puts me back to when I was a freshman in high school," said Houston. "I had to work. I had to put the work if I want to be great, if I want to do what I want to do."

The work Houston put in was twofold. He got his arm and his upper body stronger in the weight room, working on different strengthening exercises he wasn't able to while he was going through rehab on his shoulder. Houston said that turned him from a "fat 215 pounds" to a muscular 215.

He also learned the nuisances of watching film from Phillips and Stave in terms of studying himself and future opponents, something he was never big on in high school.

"I learned how to be a college quarterback with the mental side of things," said Houston. "I've got the tools. I can throw any ball out there. Throw it deep, throw it short or throw the intermediate routes, but being mentally prepared is completely different than high school."

The second part of Houston's learning was live reps. Houston played in the first two games of the season and completed his only pass, an 8-yard completion as he ran down the clock during a 45-0 Wisconsin win.

Houston got the opportunity because Phillips suggested to Andersen that he put in Houston for reps instead of giving them him, a sixth-year senior at his peak.

"That meant a lot for me, especially at the time," said Houston. "It still means a lot. I can't take anything away from Curt. He just gave it to me. I have the utmost respect for him. He says he's not coming back to Madison, but I hope he does come back."

Houston is on his third offensive coordinator since arriving in Madison, but says Andy Ludwig's offense is similar to a lot of the concepts Paul Chryst – Houston's recruiting coach - ran during his tenure. Houston also believes he knows this version of the offense at a high level and can control his passes "a lot better."

"I go out there with a smile on my face because I love to play football," said Houston. "I tell my mom that's why I came here, for academics and the love of the game. I am going to enjoy myself and that's going to radiate off me. I feel like I can pick up the other third stringers. I am almost like the Curt to them."

While it's all fun and games right now, Houston's goal heading into 2014 is simple.

"I want to take the starting job, obviously, and I guess that's about it," said Houston. "I am looking forward to next spring, and next summer and fall will take care of itself. I want to take the starting job and prove to everybody that I am as good as I think I am."

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