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Chuck Landon: New Herd linebacker makes big impression

Apr. 17, 2013 @ 12:23 AM

"The Natural."

That's what Stefan Houston is.

Not the Robert Redford kind. Not the Bernard Malamud kind. Not the movie or literature kind.

Houston is "The Natural" in every real sense of the term. The true freshman linebacker has proven that unequivocally every day during Marshall's spring football practice.

That's right, every day.

Not one practice has gone by that the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Houston hasn't been a wunderkind, a phenom, a prodigy. And all because he's a natural.

How else can Houston's uncanny performance be described?

I mean, until this kid stepped on the turf at Edwards Stadium on March 26, he never had played closer than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Not ever.

Think about that.

It could have been too close for comfort, but instead Houston made the transition so seamlessly, so adroitly and, yes, so naturally, he immediately began making plays.

That even surprised Doc Holliday.

"We talk all the time about players that have 'it,' " said Marshall's head coach. "They have the physical skills, but also have the ability to make plays. He has been doing that all spring.

"He's just a young guy who is getting his feet wet, but he shows you on the field that he has the ability to make plays. He can not only run, he can make plays in space. He's going to be a good player for us."

More likely, Houston will be a great player for Marshall.

That might seem like premature praise and grandiose expectations for a true freshman after only 10 spring practices, but consider his amazing body of work.

Houston learned to play the strong-side linebacker position so easily and made plays so immediately, Thundering Herd linebacker coach Adam Fuller moved his prodigy to the weak-side spot.

"We were trying to keep Stefon at one position because he's a freshman," explained Fuller. "But we took Stefon from playing 'Sam' and we moved him into the box (at Will). That position plays more. He's shown enough that we have to be able to give him reps instead of just watching."

That's good coaching.

Since the first-team defense has been playing a nickel package almost entirely during live periods, it meant the fifth defensive back was replacing the weak-side linebacker in the 4-2-5 scheme.

So, Houston merely watched. That's what led to his move to strong-side linebacker.

"We adjusted that because he's playing well," said Fuller. "He's a big body. He's just never played closer than 10 yards to the line of scrimmage, so all this is pretty new. But he's pretty natural at it."

There's that word again. ... natural.

See how it keeps popping up during conversations about Houston?

"I don't mind playing linebacker at all," said the Clarksburg, Md., native, who had been a safety. "It hasn't been that hard. I have just had to play more physical and just run to the ball. I've got to be faster on my feet. I have the perfect guidance from my coaches -- Coach Fuller and Coach (Chuck) Heater (defensive coordinator)."

Does Houston still make mistakes? Sure, but not very many considering the circumstances.

"He's got a long ways to go," said Fuller, "but he's got some 'want to' and he has ability. He looks pretty smooth and under control."

There's a reason for that.

It's because Houston is "The Natural."

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald- dispatch.com.

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