FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Bart Houston
hasn't been sleeping much lately. And frankly, the highly touted 6-foot-4, 210-pound De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
senior quarterback hasn't been focused on his studies either.
At least not this short week.
"I admit I've been pretty spaced out," Houston said Tuesday, the night before he and his teammates flew to Fort Lauderdale for Friday's national showdown at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale)
. "While the teacher is talking I've be looking at the wall, thinking random things, pretty much all about football."
Houston has been thinking too much about football and more so, too much about each facet of his team's play.
It's led to the first two-game slump of his nearly perfect high school career – a time when the young Spartans need to count on him to be steady, calm and strong.
Houston, who entered the season having completed 65 percent of his passes (173 of 266) for 3,179 yards with 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions, is a very curious 9 of 23 (.391) for 165 yards and one touchdown and three interceptions.
That's a quarterback rating of 39. His rating as a sophomore was 123 and a junior 138.
Nobody close to the De La Salle program believes Houston rested on his laurels during the off-season. He is, after all, the No. 78 recruit in the country
according to MaxPreps recruiting expert Tom Lemming, and he secured a full ride to the University of Wisconsin in June.
Coach Bob Ladouceur believes the problem is that Houston cares too much and that he'll snap into form before Friday's 8 p.m. (EDT) game that will televised on ESPN2.
St. Thomas Aquinas (2-0) is No. 5 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Football Rankings
. De La Salle (2-0) is No. 10.
"He's worrying about things other than his game," Ladouceur said. "He's concentrating too much on how the team is doing, instead of just taking care of responsibilities for his own position."
Houston, who was selected to the final cut of the Elite 11 quarterback camp, wholeheartedly agrees. Most of his incompletions have been over-throws. The strong-armed right-hander has been known for his accuracy since he became a starter the third game of his sophomore season, especially on long balls.
"I haven't been staying within the framework of the offense and going for the home runs too often," Houston said. "Right now we're working on just going back to hitting singles."
The Spartans are going to have to hit a lot of them to beat a bigger, faster and more talented Aquinas team. The Raiders often play a three-man line but blitz from all sides.
"They're so fast and so strong," Houston said, noting 6-3, 270-pounder Ryan Crozier
and 6-4, 300-pounder Kai Absheer
, both sophomores. "But we're also strong for our size. … they blitz and blitz and blitz almost every play but hopefully we'll run our veer really well which will prevent them from (rushing) so hard."
They'll need Houston's accurate arm of 2009 and 2010 to complete intermediate passes and keep St. Thomas off-balance. Ladouceur and staff spent much of Monday and Tuesday with Houston, making sure his mind was at ease. He also said he's going to simplify the offense to make things less worrisome.
"He's had a good week of practice," Ladouceur said. "He'll be fine."
De La Salle senior linebacker and Cal-bound Michael Barton
"I'm not worried at all about Bart," Barton said. "He's really the last guy we need to worry about. He's shown what he can do time and time again."
Indeed. Even with his poor early numbers, there's one crucial fact that has remained the same: The Spartans are undefeated with him as a starter – a streak of 27 straight wins, including back-to-back CIF State Open Division Bowl titles.
He threw a big 70-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Williams
to help force overtime, then won it with a 2-yard sneak in a 26-23 opening-night win over Bellarmine in overtime.
"Frankly, the only number I'm thinking about this week is going 28-0," Houston said. "Everybody is going to need to bring their 'A' game against these guys, myself included."