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January 7, 2011

De La Salle's Houston has a No. 1 goal

MORE ARMY BOWL: Junior Combine Registration | Complete coverage

SAN ANTONIO - Concord (Calif.) De La Salle quarterback Bart Houston doesn't have many goals for Friday's U.S. Army All-American National Combine. In fact, he has just one.

"I want to establish myself as the top quarterback in the nation," he said. "If I'm here, I might as well go for the best."

Despite guiding his Spartans to an undefeated 14-0 season and a stunning 48-8 victory over Anaheim (Calif.) Servite in the CIT Open Division Bowl, the 6-foot-4, 201-pound Houston doesn't have a single scholarship offer yet.

"I don't have any offers, not even a verbal," he said. "I've had Texas Tech and Duke that have been e-mailing me, and some mail from USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Nebraska, Iowa, Washington and Washington State."

He'll try to change that with his performance today.

"I want to improve on my footwork, my speed and my ability to - when there is a rush - get out of the pocket," he said. "I didn't have to do that many times this year because I think I only got sacked twice this season. One was on a fluke play - a play-action where I went one way and the center went the other and the linebacker delay-blitzed and just shot right through, and thunk! I was like, 'Oh, snap! Where'd you come from?'"

Last season - his second as the team's starter - Houston completed 102-of-153 passes (67 percent) for 1,922 yards, 20 touchdowns and just four picks for a 138.0 QB rating. He also rushed for 236 yards and 11 TDs - "We would have averaged over four yards per QB sneak if we weren't stopped by the end zone," Houston joked.

Houston has been hard at work these past two weeks practicing route trees with his fellow Spartan combine attendee, Mike Barton, in order to get the rust off of his shoulder. Of course, that was after taking a bit of time off after playing in a wet and sloppy affair for the state championship at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Dec. 18.

That game had to be played on a field that had hosted five games in the previous two days, and was inundated with torrential rain that required the footballs and towels to be put into a contraption called the Game Changer, in essence, a football oven.

"The last time I played a game like that, I was probably 10 years old," Houston laughed. "That was school-yard football."

Houston nevertheless deftly guided a De La Salle team that finished No. 4 in the final RivalsHigh Top 100 rankings (see complete Top 100 here). The team had 10 players bound for Division I programs. He said it was the greatest team he's ever been a part of.

"Hands down, yeah," he said. "We had a complete season. Everybody played well, especially in the state game. Our line, in the first half, probably was close to perfect. Then, they didn't stop from there. They just kept going. It was just the tenacity of our line, just going and not stopping. And there was Lucas Dunne. He just ran like he had Vaseline on him; they couldn't tackle him."

Dunne certainly provided the fireworks with 242 yards in that title game, but it was Houston's calm leadership, poise and tenacity in the huddle that has set the stage for him to be one of the best sleeper QBs in 2012.

"Life hasn't changed much," he said. "It was just a football game, and I wasn't playing for myself.

"I was playing for everybody up in the stands, I was playing for all the seniors on the team and especially one of my best friends, Nico Vanderklugt, No. 42. This entire year, I've been lifting with him, I've been working out with him, and he's had such an impact on my life. I'm playing for him, I'm playing for every single other senior on this team. I've only known him two years, but we've grown up together basically, in two years. We've grown from little boys to young men."

Next season, Houston - who was projected to only reach 6 feet tall when he was a child - will play alongside his 'little' brother, who is a freshman at De La Salle and already as tall as his older brother. The two will have quite a sibling rivalry in practice, as the younger Houston will be playing defensive end, trying to knock his big bro on his back.

"That's just so weird," he laughed. "Having brothers play on the same team, man, that's just going to be weird. He was supposed to be 6-2, and he's my height now, so he's going to be like, 6-6. He's a defensive end and plays O-line/D-line."

Houston also excels in the classroom, taking Advanced Placement Calculus among other courses. It's his head as much as his arm that's going to get him noticed, and has indeed already started to open some eyes.

"Lucas Shapiro, one of my receivers, committed to Cornell, and their coaches have been talking to me," he said. "I was even surprised. That's big-time."

Especially for a student-athlete that dreams of being a chemical engineer.

Picking a college can wait.

And if he reaches his goal of being the best quarterback at the National Combine, he figures to have his pick when that time comes.



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