Rookie RB Cedric Houston hopes to help fill the void left by LaMont Jordan leaving for Oakland. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Cedric Houston maneuvered through the classic Draft Day motions the way he maneuvered through the opposition as a Tennessee Volunteer.
He scampered around the phone like it was an opposing defense. He stared at the TV as if reading a pre-snap blitz. Family surrounded him like teammates in a huddle.
But there was one thing Houston’s collegiate career couldn’t prep him for.
Houston sat…and paced…and lingered… until he couldn’t anymore. The first day of the NFL Draft had come and gone while Houston’s name remained pinned up on some would-be team’s prospect board.
After hearing 101 players called before him, Houston was fed up and went to bed.
“I was mad I didn’t go the first day,” he said.
The 23-year-old was so exasperated, in fact, that once he tucked in for the night, he snoozed through the start of Day Two.
Houston’s slumber wasn’t broken until his mother, Lanette, brought him the phone. Houston was anxious, but when he learned who was on the other line, he nearly dropped the receiver.
“The Jets?” Houston said with a smile, seemingly recapturing his quizzical tone from that April afternoon. “That’s the last team I thought about going to.”
The 6-foot, 220-pound power back wasn’t laughing at the time though. Being the eight pick in the sixth round (152nd overall) was a bit unnerving for a player expecting to go much earlier in the Draft.
Feeling slighted on Draft Day is an emotion known all too well by many rookies, so in that sense Houston’s reaction was standard. Yet the dissatisfaction of plummeting into the latter rounds carried a caveat for Houston. Before the scouting combines took place, Houston discovered a serious physical problem: an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroid.
The condition he unwittingly carried results in an overactive thyroid gland that could produce an accelerated heart rate and weight loss in some instances.
In Houston’s case it went undiagnosed for 23 years until doctors did blood work at the combine. It created a roadblock and prevented him from showcasing his abilities before scouts since he wasn’t cleared to practice. His stock dropped like Enron.
Houston averaged 5.3 yards a carry in four years at Tennessee and his final season with the Volunteers was his most proficient, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored eight times. His numbers had potential to be better, but ankle injuries in his junior and senior campaigns forced him out of the starting lineup five times.
Houston had gotten accustomed to being fatigued for a majority of his collegiate career, and thought maybe he was just growing wary of football.
“When you get tired, you get hurt,” Houston explained. “It’s not a good feeling.”
Hence after the fifth leading rusher in Tennessee Volunteers history joined the Jets, team doctors went to work. Houston had a surgical procedure and missed minicamp in April. No matter, the problem was fixed.
“I think that was one of his problems in college was that everyone thought he wasn’t conditioned. He had a medical problem,” Edwards said. “He had some minor surgery on it and we got him on the road to recovery with conditioning.”
So when training camp rolled around Houston as up to par with the rest of a stalwart backfield. Part of Houston’s initial surprise about the Jets drafting him was because of the star power already in town.
Curtis Martin has rushed for over 1,000 yards for 10 consecutive seasons and was the league’s leading rusher last season when he fell three yards shy of 1,700. Oh and by the way he is the fourth leading rusher in the history of the NFL.
Coming from the Chiefs where he backed up Priest Holmes, Derrick Blaylock was brought in to fill the void created by LaMont Jordan, who is now starting for the Raiders. Blaylock, who scored four touchdowns in a game last year, could vie for a starting job in most NFL backfields, but elected to rush behind Martin. So when Houston first got to New York, he started absorbing the infinite knowledge around him.
Martin has taught him about reading the entire defense and not just following his initial blockers while Blaylock works with him on footwork. Aside from the field, humility is the biggest message Martin has tried to convey. Houston is taking reporter-like notes.
“Curtis is like my big brother. Everywhere he goes I’m going,” Houston explained. “If you see Curtis you’ll see me right behind him in his back pocket.”
All three backs have distinctive running styles. Martin is a patient, workman-like back while Blaylock is a bit stealthier. Houston’s 220-pound frame separates him from his backfield mates, and when you see him run he looks eerily similar to the man who used to wear his jersey number.
“Hopefully some of that number 34 will rub off on me,” said Houston, who changed his number from 39 after minicamp, brushing off any potential comparisons to Jordan.
Houston’s transition to the pros has had its ups and downs. A fumble against the Lions tarnished his first game and an injury leading up to last week’s bout against the Giants forced him out. But since the starters wont be on the field long enough to break a sweat this week, Houston will be out there looking to duplicate his one shining moment of the preseason.
Against the Vikings on Aug. 19, with the game tied at 21, Houston one of Houston’s six carries resulted in the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s great,” Houston said after the game. “I still can’t believe I scored.”
His likely role once the regular season starts will be on special teams, where coach Mike Westhoff has him blocking for kick returners on kickoffs. On punts he could be used as a decoy during a direct snap. For now, however, Houston appreciates where his football journey as landed him.
“It all worked out,” Houston said. “I’m happy where I’m at.”
INSIDER TIDBITS: CEDRIC HOUSTON
-He is the fifth on the Tennesse Volunteers all-time rushing yardage list behind a gaudy list. Only Travis Henry, James Stewart, Johnnie Jones and Jamal Lewis have more yards than Houston.
-Houston was one of 10 running backs named to the Parade and SuperPrep All-America teams as a senior. He rushed for 1,724 yards and 35 touchdowns on 167 rushes, an average of more than 10 yards per carry in his final campaign at Clarendon High School.
-Houston set a state career-record with 97 touchdowns and also set the Arkansas sophomore rushing records with 2,445 yards and 32 scores. Houston added 1,896 yards on 202 carries as a junior.
-He did not play football until eight grade. He wanted to be a baseball player, but began emulating two-sport star Bo Jackson.