MADISON – Combine his background with his personality, Wisconsin senior quarterback Bart Houston travels on a pretty even line. He’s never publicly worried about his future or got too high or low about his on-the-field performances, and his ‘aww shucks’ demeanor makes you believe him.
So with fall camp getting underway this week coinciding with his best – and last – chance to win the starting quarterback job, Houston’s mindset and approach continues to be steady.
“I’m excited for this year and excited for this season,” Houston said. “Not just me personally, but I’m excited to see how our offense identifies itself in this camp. That’s going to help the team identify itself.”
Of course, the identity of a Paul Chryst offense is usually tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the quarterback. If it wasn’t already it became abundantly clear to Houston during the summer when he watched hours and hours of film of himself, past quarterbacks at Wisconsin and even move than a decade to when Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Oregon State in 2002.
After joking that he was a redshirt freshman in Chryst’s offense in the spring, Houston labels himself as a “redshirt junior” from a knowledge base after having put in more offseason hours than in previous years.
“I learned from my mistakes, I learned from his (freshman Alex Hornibrook’s) mistakes, from my successes and his successes,” Houston said. “We’ve got this huge archive from old film, and the same play they ran at Oregon State when Coach Chryst was there, they were making the same mistakes, so you can learn from that.
“You can watch so much film but if you can’t put it on the field what’s the point of it?”
That question had been hovering over Houston throughout the first three years of his career. Recruited by Chryst for a pro-style fit, Houston was an outcast in Gary Andersen’s offensive identity, so much so that that UW staff felt the best way to utilize the former four-star recruit was as a rugby-style punter.
With the return of Chryst came a return of Houston’s confidence, and an injury to starter Joel Stave early in a road game at Illinois last October allowed Houston to go 22-for-33 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
That performance, along with the work he put in during the spring and summer, has caught the eye of former Wisconsin quarterback and current offensive quality control coach Jon Budmayr.
“The one thing about Bart is that he cares so much,” Budmayr said. “Bart has put in a ton of time this summer. He’s asked all the right questions. He’s into it and he wants to take advantage of the opportunity. I always know that with Bart, but there’s definitely a sense of urgency with it. He’s been dialed in all summer, great with the guys and I’m excited to see him start throwing it and competing in camp.”
Pressed to list his strengths entering his final season, Houston said his ability to play the game without thinking too much. He added his big weakness entering the offseason was his relationship with the players from the standpoint that he was now the one being looked at to lead.
“Being the backup guy, Joel (Stave) had all the guys coming to him to ask him questions,” Houston said. “It’s easier for him to get to know the guys. I’m not a very vocal guy, a more lead-by-actions guy, so it came a little harder for me. Now that I’m in the position I am, guys are coming to me and asking me questions that need to be asked. It’s just me answering them instead of the old guy.”
In past quarterback competitions, Wisconsin typically makes a decision on the starter around 10 days out from the opener. Houston wouldn’t be surprised if the choice this season doesn’t come much closer to the first kickoff.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was three hours before,” Houston said, smiling. “I betcha that’s how it’s going to happen. When I was being recruited, I saw Stanford run 20 people out on to the field to hide the personnel, and then everybody came back except for the guys supposed to be on the field. That would actually be pretty funny if we did that.”