FORT WAYNE – Last season, Stephen Houston put up the best rushing numbers for an Indiana back since 2003.
But the junior from Little Rock, Ark., says his initial transition from Independence (Kan.) Community College to the Big Ten wasnt as smooth as it appeared.
I came out of JUCO as one of the top running backs in my conference. After I mastered that, it became pretty easy, Houston said at Indianas media day this month. But once I got here, I thought, because of my ego, that I was going to walk into a starting job.
But I failed to realize that everybody in the Big Ten is fast, including the defensive ends and defensive tackles. I had to quickly let that go and become adjusted to the fact that everybodys fast and I need to get faster.
Houston showcased that speed, finishing with eight touchdowns and 802 rushing yards, the most for a Hoosier since BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 938 yards in 2003.
Once I started to realize that I was getting faster and started to understand coachs schemes, the game started to slow down, Houston said. Once it slowed down, I was more comfortable, I was more relaxed, and I just let it flow and let the game come to me instead of trying to take it to the game.
Houston had 711 rushing yards in Big Ten games. Thats the best total for a Hoosier since Green-Ellis had 784 yards, also in 2003.
He has good vision. He is a very good inside-zone runner, IU running backs coach Deland McCullough said. Were working on his ability to run that outside stretch. People bounce off of him. Hes got a good center of gravity. Hes tough. Hes very tough. I cant remember him coming out of a game because of injury. Hes got great leadership capabilities, too.
Houston is in a battle for the starting spot this season. Hes listed behind freshman running back Tevin Coleman on the depth chart for Saturdays game against Indiana State. DAngelo Roberts is the third running back listed.
Youll see all three of those guys play, and well need all three of those guys, IU coach Kevin Wilson said during Tuesdays Big Ten teleconference. (Stephen) is a big back, he catches the ball well, he has really good feet.
McCullough said the 6-foot, 220-pound Houston has made strides in blocking.
He improved a ton through last season, and its only going to get better this season because Stephen wants to be very good, McCullough said. Thats one of the great things I like about Stephen. Hell ask you after every play How was that? How was that? He really cares about getting good at those things.
Wilson wants Houston to have a greater physical presence.
For a big kid, we need him to play like a big player, and we need him to step up, Wilson said. Weve been pushing him in that direction. Well see as we get into games how he responds.