A film session beckoned Bart Houston, but he needed to make a quick phone call first.
Bart Houston dialed his parents back in his hometown of Dublin, California, to tell them the news: In nine days, he would start as quarterback for the University of Wisconsin football team against Louisiana State University at Lambeau Field.
His mother, Inge Houston, shrieked with excitement. His father, Guy Houston, a local politician, reacted more diplomatically, along the lines of, “you have this opportunity, now go out there and do it.”
The fifth-year senior made his first start at quarterback Saturday since he led his team to a state championship his senior year of high school, where he was ranked a four-star recruit. It appeared then that Houston would have a smooth transition to the college game and would make an impact for the Badgers early in his career. The opportunity never arrived.
When Gary Andersen took over the program for two years, he relegated Bart Houston to backup punter, in charge of kicking the ball rugby-style.
“You always think you can do it earlier, but just wasn’t in the stars,” Bart Houston said. “I’m glad it happened.”
None of that mattered Saturday, though. Bart Houston ran onto the field like Odysseus returning to Ithaca — he had finally made it home. Bart Houston is named after Packers legendary gunslinger of the same name (you’ve heard this already), so call it a homecoming for him.
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“It makes it very special,” Bart Houston said of his first start coming at Lambeau. “It’s a great opportunity to play in front of our fans for this team and show what I can do.”
Houston was shaky at times, throwing two brutal interceptions, but he maintained poise and led the Badgers to a 16-14 win against No. 5 LSU. He completed 19 of his 31 passing attempts for 205 yards.
Just like his first four years in Madison, it wasn’t easy securing the starting role. He and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook engaged in a tight quarterback battle, with no one truly emerging until Bart Houston over the final week or so of fall camp. UW head coach Paul Chryst had to make a difficult decision.
Initially, it appeared Chryst would have no choice but to press Hornibrook into action. He was the better quarterback when camp first opened, and Bart Houston’s throws were often erratic and inconsistent.
“The first week I was pressing,” Bart Houston said. “I was trying to get there too fast, but it’s a process … I just took a step back and played my game. I didn’t overdo it and try to make too many plays. I just let it happen.”
His coach saw the same progress. Bart Houston’s performance at Illinois last season (22 of 33, two touchdowns and two interceptions) also allowed Chryst to feel comfortable putting Bart Houston under center for Week One.
At the same time, Chryst said, he’s improved since then.
“I think he definitely has a better grasp of what we’re trying to do,” Chryst said regarding Houston’s performance against Illinois. “I think he also, through the number of reps he’s had, understands his strengths and weaknesses. I think both of them came out in that game. I think he did that early in camp. He was pressing, and that was good for him to have to go through and deal with it. I think he does have more knowledge of what we’re trying to do, and I think he’s got more knowledge of himself.”
On the other side of the competition is a young, disappointed quarterback in Hornibrook, who by no means played himself out of the job. It was a tough pill for Hornibrook to swallow, but he praised Bart Houston’s perseverance in reaching the starting role after years of waiting on the sideline.
“Obviously, for the fans and everybody, to see a kid that went through everything [Bart Houston] did and stick with it through different coaching changes, it’s good for a kid like that to get his chance,” Hornibrook said.
Bart Houston also said the competition was beneficial for him but that it didn’t matter anymore. He has a job to do now.
“What we’re trying to do is get this team and get this offense to win games for us,” Bart Houston said. “It’s over.”