The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 6, 2013

Houston relishes chance to play

Marshall might have had two weeks to get ready for UTSA, but Stefan Houston waited an eternity for the moment.

The Thundering Herd linebacker finally made his debut Saturday, helping his team to a 34-10 homecoming win over the Roadrunners. Houston came to Huntington with high expectations, but a high ankle sprain had kept the Clarksburg, Md., native off the field since the preseason.

“It felt good to be out there and help my team,” the 6-foot-3, 220-pound true freshman said. “I missed four games (plus) two weeks of camp. It was a struggle trying to get back and try to play and help the team win.”

Houston, who played last season at Fork Union Military Academy, made an immediate impact. He led Marshall (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) with eight tackles, 1 1/2 for loss. He was credited with a half sack.

Knowing he would finally get to play, Houston had to get himself prepared mentally.

“This week was about staying focused and just working hard to be there for my teammates whenever anything happens,” he said.

Houston was part of a defense that posted the best performance against UTSA’s offense this season. The Herd held the Roadrunners to a season-low 254 total yards and forced three interceptions by senior quarterback Eric Soza.

The chop blocking that coach Doc Holliday had expressed concern about was never a factor.

“That extra week helped us a lot,” Houston said, referring to Marshall’s bye week before the UTSA game. “It gave us a rest from the losses we had taken and helped us with our mindset on playing the next week, and that was UTSA. So every time we went to practice, we just went over their schemes and what they tend to do in a game.”

“We just went in with the game plan that Coach Heater (defensive coordinator) and Coach Doc gave us,” said redshirt freshman free safety A.J. Leggett, who had an interception in the third quarter. “They have a great offense and you’ve got to respect that.”

Marshall got to Soza right off the bat, tipping passes to set up interceptions on the Roadrunners’ first two drives. The Herd scored on both turnovers, setting the tone early.

“He’s a great quarterback,” Leggett said. “I think our d-linemen saw that in the film, and Coach (J.C.) Price and Coach (Sean) Cronin did a good job preparing those guys to get their hands up at the point of his release.”

A defense that was one of the worst in the country last season is now eighth in total defense, holding opponents to 278.8 yards per game.

“The turnovers are huge,” Holliday said. “That defense keeps getting better.”

— E-mail: gfauber@

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