Clarksburg linebacker Steffan Houston is only a sophomore, so it's understandable he hasn't - as the great Crash Davis said in the movie Bull Durham - learned his clichés yet.
It's not that Houston openly spouts off like a listless prima donna. And it's not that he lacks intelligence. Quite the contrary. It's just he's rather shy around reporters and really doesn't have much to say at all. Five words constitute a complete though. A compound sentence is stretching it. Deep insight? Don't even go there.
Question: So how does it feel to be a starter on varsity even though you're just a sophomore?
"It feels pretty good."
Next question: What do you think makes you a special player?
"I don't think I'm a special player."
But your coach and scouts all say you're going to be great. You must be doing something right …
"I guess I'm all right."
The interview went on like that for another eight minutes.
But if there's one way to get Houston to open up, it's football talk. Turns out Houston has no other hobbies, no other passions, no other obsessions. It's gridiron glory or bust.
"He's a kid that just loves the game of football," said Clarksburg coach Larry Hurd. "His face just lights up whenever you mention it. And he's always the first one on the field at practice. He does any drill we ask him to do. He watches film. He works out. He's a joy to coach."
Houston didn't have a problem (pun intended) with that assessment.
"I've been playing football since I was eight years old and I never get tired of it," Houston said. "I play every chance I get. I love the game more than anything. I'll do anything I can to get better."
He'll need to get better at public speaking, too, especially since those soothsaying college scouts will be calling soon enough. Contrary to his own personal beliefs, Houston's name is already showing up on local recruiting boards.
"I just talked to Maryland [recruiting coordinator] Dave Sollazzo today about him," Hurd said. "If he stays in the weight room and keeps his grades up he's going to be a team leader and represent the program well on Saturdays."
What makes Hurd so sure? First and foremost, it's Houston's size. Houston isn't even old enough to get a gym membership at some clubs, but he's already 6-feet-2 and 195 pounds thanks to his work in Clarksburg's weight room. His biceps are bulging like a desert anthill, and his torso is rock solid. He squats over 300 pounds and benches 285, good numbers for a kid who can't even get a learner's permit yet.
While his size is clearly evident, it's his speed that truly separates him. Most 200 pounders plod around in the 4.8-5.0 40-yard dash range. Houston clocks in at a 4.6.
"He's much more physically mature than your average sophomore," Hurd said. "He's very strong, he runs well and he's athletically gifted."
That became apparent soon after Houston arrived at Clarksburg. He spent exactly five games on jayvee as a freshman before moving up to varsity.
"I guess I made some - what's the word? -- remarkable plays," Houston said.
Hurd and his coaching staff thought so, too. Granted, Houston had to give way to his upperclassmen teammates on varsity, but as a rotational player he still managed over 30 tackles and three sacks. His main contributions came on special teams, although he showed flashes of potential at linebacker.
In the last game of the season, Clarksburg led Wooton 14-9 late in the game. Wooton had the ball and drove all the way to the Coyotes' 10-yard line. But their drive stalled. On fourth down, Wooton tried to run a slip screen underneath the coverage. Houston read the play and leveled the receiver right as the ball arrived. The wide out dropped the pass and Clarksburg took over on downs. They went on to a 22-9 victory.
"I saw him come out in the open and I took him down," Houston said. "It was a big hit."
That's probably an understatement.
"Steffan hit that receiver and I think his head is still imprinted on the field," Hurd said. "It was an unbelievable hit. It made me say 'Wow.' Right then I knew he was going to be special."
That's probably an overstatement.
But the picture is crystal clear: Houston can hit - hard.
"I do like to chase down running backs and smack them," Houston allowed.
Houston may be able to hit, but he's still raw at linebacker. In addition to building more muscle, he needs to work on footwork, field awareness and pass coverage. He could use a little brushing up on interviews, too, but as far as football talent is concerned, Houston most definitely does NOT have a problem.
"He's going to be out of this world," Hurd said. "Steffan could be really special if he reaches his potential … and his potential is sky high."