Eddrick Houston Ohio State Buckeyes Defensive End

‘Big Ol’ Kid’ Eddrick Houston A Humble Star

This isn’t your typical origin story of a high school coach first laying his eyes on a player and seeing him do something uncannily athletic and knowing instantly that he was going to be special. It is both much more mundane and much deeper than that.

First impressions are hard to shake, and Buford High School head football coach Bryant Appling’s first impression of Ohio State freshman defensive end Eddrick Houston goes back about six years now and is the one that has stuck with him through four years of high school achievements, accolades, and high-pressure recruiting.

It was a 7-on-7 outing late in the summer before Houston’s eighth-grade year. Houston’s team was winning and they had played well, so the starters — Houston among them — were pulled from the game.

“They were all on the sideline and just hanging out watching other kids,” Appling told Buckeye Huddle. “Eddrick was just watching and encouraging and doing what he was supposed to do, but while he was on the sidelines, he was cleaning up trash. All the water bottles and stuff just from normal 7-on-7 games. That really stuck out to me. A kid that was that cerebral in the fact, like, ‘I’m gonna leave it better than I found it,’ kind of deal. Whether it was a teammate’s stuff or other team’s stuff, he’s just sitting there picking up bottles, picking up pieces of trash all over. So it stood out.”

Houston was one of the nation’s top prospects in the class of 2024. The nation’s top college football coaches were routine visitors at Buford High School, making their pitches to the talented defensive end. Houston was a coveted five-star recruit, but to the people in the community, he has always been so much more.

“As big as he was, if he’d go to the elementary school or be around little kids at football games or pep rallies and stuff like that, they all love him. They all jump all over him,” Appling said. “I’ve got two sons. They love him to death. Always want to go wrestle with him and play around with him. He’s just that type of kid. A big ol’ kid that loves everybody. He’ll come in and clean up the lunch room tables. He’s just that type of guy here. He’s never gonna let a female teacher or a female student or a mom carry stuff in the door. He’s gonna grab it from them and get it in for them. So he’s always willing to help other people in a bunch of different ways. And that always stood out, as far as what type of person he is.”

Putting In The Work

Former Buford offensive lineman Seth McLaughlin was a senior when Eddrick Houston was an eighth grader. McLaughlin spent the first four years of college at Alabama before transferring to Ohio State this past winter.

In speaking with the media for the first time back in January, McLaughlin was asked about that former eighth grader.

“He looked the same size, I felt like, as a senior in high school,” McLaughlin said. “Because he’s always been a huge guy.”

Quite often the high school kids who show up as freshmen already looking the part have always been able to rely on their size to get by. For some, the work, the technique, and the drive have never been all that necessary in being successful.

Eventually, however, everybody finds their match, and size stops being the advantage it once was.

Eddrick Houston definitely looked the part early on, but he also worked at it. Relentlessly.

“He was always big kid. Big with a lot of baby fat on him at that time,” Appling said. “He was a big, strong kid that played a good amount as a freshman. We haven’t had many that played as freshmen, but he was one. He played a good amount at tight end and defensive end and just kept growing, kept getting stronger, kept getting faster, just more explosive.

“He was a specimen then and he’s definitely a specimen now. But he kept working. He wasn’t just a big guy who played football just because he looked like he should play football. He’s a gym rat. He worked hard and studied film hard. That’s why he’s the player he is now.”

Appling and his coaching staff saw the proof early on. Even as a true freshman playing tight end and defensive end, he was holding his own against juniors and seniors who went on to play college football. Houston was out there on scout team early in the season “mixing it up with those guys and making plays.”

Down the stretch, Houston saw more and more time on the varsity team as a freshman.

“His freshman year he’s playing tight end in the state championship game and blocking down on guys and driving guys out of there, and making plays the way he needs to make them on defense as well,” Appling said. “So that’s why we knew pretty early by the way he came out to practice when he was a freshman that he was going to be special. And he just kept getting better and better. And that’s all she wrote.”

Driven To Compete

By the time Eddrick Houston was headed into his senior season, everybody knew who he was. The demands of being one of the nation’s top recruits wore on him a bit, just as it would on anybody else. But it never kept him from the work, and it never changed who he was.

“I’ll tell you, he’s one of the most humble high-profile kids I’ve ever had a chance to coach, and I’ve had a bunch of them,” Appling said. “They’re all great kids, but he just didn’t care about picking the hat on Signing Day. He didn’t want to interview with a lot of people. He wasn’t worried about all the clicks and all the likes and the tweets and the limelight. He just wanted to play football.”

Houston is driven by the opportunity to compete, which happened often in the big-time Georgia high school landscape in which he grew up. Even as one of the best players in the nation, there were times when Houston ran into other “best players in the nation.”

“If there’s somebody he feels like is gonna be close to his level, or just as good as him, he’s gonna give you even more,” Appling said. “I think he just loves the game so much that he wants to play. So whatever he needs to do to be on that field on Friday or on Saturday is what he’s going to get done. And he’s gonna do a little bit of extra just to make sure everybody knows he’s handling his business and doing what he needs to do to help the team win.”

Follow The Leader

Buford High School has had some very talented players over the years, as evidenced by the fact that Eddrick Houston was one of three five-star prospects on his own team last season. He joined safety KJ Bolden and quarterback Dylan Raiola as three of the nation’s top prospects.

It is a program that doesn’t usually lack for talent, which also means it shouldn’t lack for leadership. There has certainly been no lack of leadership from Houston over the previous couple of years.

“Oh, yeah. That’s just what he was. I never really had to push him to do anything like that,” Appling said. “He talks all the time. Yeah, obviously, as a freshman and sophomore, he wasn’t doing that because he didn’t need to. But we always told him, ‘You’re a leader, regardless of what you want to say or do. You’re one of the better players on the team. You’re a natural leader.’ Just like the quarterback. The quarterback might not be the best quarterback or whatever, but he’s still a natural leader because of his position. So if you’re a good player or starter as a youngster, you’re still a leader because people watch what you do.”

Houston leads by example and is happily coached hard, not just for himself, but for the example it sets for everyone else. He’s also not afraid to lead in a vocal manner when the standards are not being met.

“Oh, he’s definitely a vocal guy. I mean, he’s gonna lead by example. He’s also gonna lead with his speech, he’s gonna encourage his teammates,” Appling said. “He’s also gonna call teammates out when they need to be called out. It’s confrontational at times, but nothing bad. It’s all, ‘Hey man, we’ve got stuff to do.’ So it was always a good thing when he did it.

“And I’d always tell them that if you all got rubbed wrong by what he said right there, you’re just not made of the same type of stuff a good football player — a tough football player — is made up of. Because there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing. He’s just trying to encourage people. Some kids have a hard time with being led like that, but Eddrick was never out of line with the way he did it. He was always on top of things and just trying to bring everybody up to the level that we try to have in this program.”

Prototypical Buckeyes

Buford has sent players to Ohio State before, such as former offensive lineman Harry Miller and current offensive lineman Seth McLaughlin, but that’s not been Bryant Appling’s only experience with future Buckeyes.

Appling has been one of the several coaches on the sidelines at the annual All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas each of the past two years. He has coached current Buckeyes like running back James Peoples, safeties Caleb Downs and Malik Hartford, receivers Carnell Tate, Brandon Inniss, and Jeremiah Smith, linebacker Garrett Stover, and several more over that time.

Eddrick Houston always being a big kid may have made it difficult to fit in most places, but according to Appling, he definitely fits in with the kind of players Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has been recruiting over the years.

“It’s kind of crazy how him, Peoples, there was a couple more guys on that team. I’ve also had Malik Hartford, Caleb Downs. All the same breed of kids, you know what I mean?” he said. “We’ve had kids go to Ohio State before. All humble. All great kids. Like the ones you want to coach.

“You can coach them hard and they’re gonna respond. So that makes the rest of the team respond because the best player is getting coached hard. It makes my job easy. So it’s kind of special that all of them are the same exact way. I think Coach Day has a prototypical type of kid he likes to recruit, and that’s why they win so much. I mean, they’re all great kids and they’re all great players. They love ball and they love to be coached.”

The Scouting Report

Coaches see all of the strengths and weaknesses of their players, on and off the field, which is why there are few better places to go for a scouting report.

So what are Eddrick Houston’s strengths and weaknesses?

“I don’t know how many weaknesses he has,” Appling said with a laugh. “He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s technical. He’s got great pad level. Great motor.”

There is obviously going to be a learning curve for Houston at Ohio State, especially now as an early enrollee. Houston has gone through winter conditioning and spring football while his class at Buford High School is still a month or more away from graduation.

College is always a challenging transition, especially when you could still be in high school instead. Frustrations and doubts will happen. It happens for every freshman. It has happened with Houston in the past, but Appling has always seen him respond to those kinds of adversities.

“I’ve seen him get frustrated before when he doesn’t do what he thinks he can do on an every-down basis and lets that linger for a play or two, but he always finds a way to get out of it,” he said. “And I think he’s gonna find a way to get out of it when he gets there too. Just keep fighting on every down. Make a play here and there and get the ball rolling in that direction. He’s a great kid. He’s a great player. There’s not a bunch of weaknesses I can sit here and say that he has.”

A Beacon Of Light

From the humble beginnings of cleaning up a football field as an eighth grader to flying around to all of the best college football programs this country has to offer, Bryant Appling has seen Eddrick Houston come a long way, while never actually straying from who he has always been.

“He’s a kid that just wants to do well by Buford, Georgia,” Appling said. “He wants to do well by his mom and his family. He’s hellbent on making a good impression in Columbus, just as he did at Buford. I just think he’s a great guy that’s going to represent that program in a special way.”

The more distance Houston puts between himself and his Georgia home, the more his upbringing keeps that distance from feeling all that far away.

He brings the same approach to Columbus that he had a Buford. The surroundings have changed, but the inner drive is still as familiar as ever.

“Once he gets rolling on Saturdays, you’ll see the type of kid I’m talking about,” Appling said. “Fun loving, just a smiling kid who is willing to help anybody out at any given time and be a beacon of light in the program. In a program with a bunch of great players, he’s probably one of the best people I’ve been around. So I just can’t wait for him to get everything rolling in the fall and see what he can do for you guys.”

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