Redshirt freshman quarterback Bart Houston has a theory on why everybody seems to question whether he can run well enough to be the starting quarterback for the University of Wisconsin football team.
Houston ran in the split-backs, triple-option veer in high school at prep powerhouse De La Salle in Concord, Calif.
So, Houston has experience running the option, which UW coach Gary Andersen said he wants to be a component in the team’s new offense.
“That was our entire offense,” Houston said of his high school days.
“I’ve run it before. Nobody knows. I may not be running 60 yards for a touchdown, but I’ll get the first down. That’s all that matters.”
The reason nobody talks about his legs, Houston believes, is because most of the focus in his career has always been on his strong right arm.
Asked why people are skeptical he can run the option, Houston said, “Because everybody thought I had a big arm.”
Houston is clearly excited about the opportunity in front of him during spring practices. He exudes the confidence of somebody who was 38-1 in his prep career and won three state titles.
“He’s won a lot of games,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig said. “He’s got confidence.”
While he is the least experienced of the top four quarterbacks competing for the starting job in the spring — seniors Curt Phillips and Danny O’Brien and sophomore Joel Stave each started games last season — that doesn’t faze Houston.
“I love competition,” Houston said. “Curt, Joel and Danny are great guys, but I’m coming after them, like every other kid would.”
Badgers fans are excited about Houston (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) because he was a highly ranked recruit, throwing for 5,178 yards with a 62.2 completion percentage and 46 touchdown passes in his prep career. He also was invited to the ESPN Elite 11 QB camp.
“He’s had some quarterback training and that shows up, but I wouldn’t say any of us are polished just yet,” Ludwig said.
The phrase Ludwig uses repeatedly when it comes to the quarterbacks is “repetitive accuracy.” While Houston has shown he has a strong arm, he needs to be more accurate and make better decisions — like all young quarterbacks.
Ludwig and Houston have some history together. When Ludwig was the offensive coordinator at California, he recruited Houston. Later, when Ludwig moved on to the same role at San Diego State, he offered Houston a scholarship.
“I’m very impressed, the things I liked on tape are showing up on the practice field right now,” Ludwig said. “He’s a young guy, he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s got a good skill set. He can wing it. He can really throw the ball.”
Houston was redshirted last season, following shoulder surgery prior to the season. He had previously suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder and a cyst developed, which was removed.
He wasn’t cleared to practice until the first week of November — he was originally expected to be out until bowl practices — but tried to make the most of his first year anyway. After returning, he frequently stayed late after practice, throwing to whatever receiver would catch passes from him.
“The way it benefited me was just getting to know a college system,” Houston said. “Running the split-backs veer in high school was completely different than a pro-style offense.”
And now he’s in a completely new system under Ludwig.
“I had stage one,” Houston said of last season. “Now it’s stage two. It really wasn’t that bad of a transition, we’re trying to keep the terms as close as possible, because we’ve had three (offensive coordinators) in three years.”
Houston has recovered rom the surgery and said his arm is stronger than ever.
“I’m 110 percent,” he said. “I’m actually throwing the ball harder and farther now. It feels great.”
Whether or not Houston could be considered a dual-threat quarterback is another issue.
“We wouldn’t ask him to run a whole lot,” Ludwig said. “He has good escapability, he’s a good athlete, but I would not put him in the category as a running quarterback.”
The importance the new coaches place in having a dual-threat quarterback seemed evident when junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy, who is a strong runner, was a late addition to the 2013 recruiting class. McEvoy will not be on campus until the start of summer workouts.
Right now, Ludwig isn’t placing a high priority on finding a quarterback who can run.
“You need a passer that has escapability — the ability to extend plays,” Ludwig said. “If a quarterback in the system has the ability to do some running, then that’s a huge plus. Right now, the machine’s not necessarily built that way.”