March 28, 2009

Lamarr Houston has emerged as key senior leader

Lamarr Houston is a bit of a renaissance man. He loves to play the piano and drums. He spoke during a program called Smart Girls that builds self-esteem in young girls. And he's fluent in sign language and would love to help coach deaf football players one day.

But the vibrant expressions on Lamarr's face when he's signing to deaf students are nowhere to be found when he's on the football field these days.

Houston takes it as his personal mission to make sure there is an edge and attitude on the defense. Ask him what that means, and he says, "Means more responsibility. But that's expected when you're a senior."

ADDING TO THE RESUME

Last year at this time, Houston had wide eyes and a sliver of doubt about what he was being asked to do: move from defensive end to defensive tackle. But after helping to anchor the middle of the line last year alongside Roy Miller despite a foot injury that plagued him most of the year, Houston is all confidence right now - even as he's being asked to add to his football resume once more.

This time, it's moving from the three-technique, which lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard, to the one-technique, which lines up between the guard and center and faces most of an offensive line's double teams.

"Anything to win," Houston said. "I'll do whatever it takes."

EMEGENCE OF ALEXANDER

Houston's full-blown move to the one-technique may have been delayed by the emergence of Ben Alexander, who has lost nearly 25 pounds over the last year to get down to his most recent weigh-in of 297. Even at the Fiesta Bowl, coaches were planning on using Alexander against power running teams (like Ohio State) but thought they'd have to use him situationally against spread teams because he lacked the flexibility and lateral quickness. But Alexander has worked hard to make plays no matter the offense and is changing coaches' minds.

Mack Brown said this week, "Ben has played really, really well this spring." Those thoughts were echoed by Sergio Kindle. Houston also has been impressed with Alexander.

"The D-line is coming along really good - working really hard," Houston said. "It's showing consistency with Ben Alexander and Kheeston Randall stepping up. We've got Sergio Kindle coming downhill. It's looking really good."

A VOCAL LEADER (SOMETIMES)

The point is Houston doesn't care where he lines up. He's up to 290 from 275 last season and said the extra weight hasn't affected his stamina. Most importantly, Houston has slipped easily into a leadership role. Cornerback Chykie Brown said when someone leans over in the weight room, showing fatigue, it's Houston yelling from across the room to straighten up.

"People respect him," Chykie said. "When Lamarr talks, people listen."

Houston said it's not really his personality to be vocal, but he knows every once in a while he'll need to speak up.

"I'm not really a vocal guy, but I know sometimes that's what it takes for different people to respond and step up to the plate," Houston said. "Me, Muck (Roddrick Muckelroy) and Sergio are not really vocal guys. We're more lead by example. Sometimes Muckelroy steps up to say some things. But Muck, Sergio, myself are more guys who will lead by example."

CHEMISTRY CHECK

Houston said he monitors the chemistry of the team like a hawk. He remembers two years ago, when the team never really came together and there appeared to be a split between the veteran and younger players. He knows what's on the line this season with a favorable schedule and possible No. 1 or No. 2 preseason ranking.

"I think our chemistry is even greater than last year," Houston said. "There's not one person on the team you can't laugh with and just be around and feel like there's no friction between the two of you. It's just all smooth between everybody."

Houston starts to laugh when people say they worry about the depth on the defensive line.

"Last year, they said we didn't really have a defensive line, so we just have to prove it again," Houston said.

THE BOXING BOND

Houston and Kindle are spending extra time boxing this spring to work on hand movement and getting off blocks. Houston and Kindle don't box each other, but both have said the work is helping.

"It's all about keeping your hands, feet and mind moving," Houston said. "It helps you concentrate when you're tired. It helps a lot."

Houston and Kindle have become close friends off the field, helping to provide a unified front from two key seniors on the defense.

"Sergio is doing whatever it takes to help the team," Houston said. "It's all about team. It's never about the individual. We never look at what anybody else does, we just look at what we need to do. Sergio is a cool guy. He's one of my friends. He's a cool, calm, relaxed guy. He's funny and fun to be around."

NO LIMIT

Colt McCoy said Houston's leadership is emerging more and more - as well as his playmaking on the field.

"The defense is throwing a lot of looks," McCoy said. "And it's fun for me because that's what I'm going to see. When Lamarr and Sergio are on the same side, it's pretty tough."

When Houston is asked just how good the defense can be in 2009, he talks about the comfort all the players have in the second year of Will Muschamp's scheme and the contagious intensity Muschamp has brought to the unit.

"The sky's the limit for how good we can be," Houston said. "It's up to us. We just need to keep working."

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