Indiana running back Stephen Houston runs drills during the team's pro day in March 2014. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Houston running with opportunity in Ravens backfield

One week, Stephen Houston was carrying grocery bags in Bloomington.

The next, he was carrying the football in Baltimore.

Part of Houston’s responsibilities as a strength and conditioning assistant on Indiana’s basketball staff called for him to stock the refrigerators at the school’s Cook Hall practice facility. So he would often make the quick drive to one of the local supermarkets and purchase enough food to fill his truck.

“That’s my last image of Stephen Houston here: carrying grocery bags into Cook Hall,” IU assistant coach Chuck Martin said. “I go outside and he’s unloading the truck with bags. Then, in a few (days), he’s in training camp. He goes from the grocery story to the NFL. It’s unbelievable.”

Indeed, Houston isn’t done with football just yet.

The former Indiana running back spent last month in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens and was added to the team’s practice squad on Sunday. It’s a unique path taken by Houston, who was unable to latch on with a team after his senior season and spent the last year working as a strength coach under Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean.

But’s it’s a path that has finally taken him to where he wants to be — in pads, on a field, with a ball in his hands.

“It’s been a wonderful ride,” Houston said. “I’m blessed to be in this situation and have this opportunity to showcase my skills and show my talent. I’m just coming in being humble and hungry.”

The Ravens and Indiana’s basketball program are connected through Crean and John Harbaugh, Baltimore’s head coach. They’re brothers in law, and Houston’s move from Bloomington to Baltimore is the latest example of their worlds coming together.

Indiana’s basketball team spent four days in Maryland last fall, participating in team building exercises and taking in a Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium. Crean also spoke to the Ravens in the visitor’s locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium after their preseason win over the Colts last month.

Houston said Crean’s connection to Harbaugh helped him land the opportunity — his first with an NFL team since the Pittsburgh Steelers cut him in August 2014. His agent’s work helped, too.

“Both of them played significant roles in this process,” Houston said.

To even be in this position, Houston had to be prepared.

He originally latched on with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2014, then spent time with the Steelers a few weeks later. Last year, he had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan RoughRiders.

He’s never played in an NFL regular season game, and his place on Baltimore’s practice squad doesn’t guarantee he’ll ever move to the Ravens active roster.

But Houston merely wanted an opportunity to prove himself. He believes he’s more mature and mentally tough than he was during his initial NFL window.

After signing with the Ravens on Aug. 3, Houston received his chance and he’s run with it.

“Coach Crean always talks about how you never know when your opportunity is coming,” Martin said. “He’s always addressing the team, always addressing the kids to be prepared. Be ready. I think Stephen being with us every day, he’s a coach, but he’s also listening to the message about being prepared and being ready. I think he took that to heart.”

Working at Indiana included long days for Houston, who worked out either before or after his daily duties with the basketball team.

After work, he’d go find a quick dinner then work out at IU’s facilities. Some days he ran sprints or shuttles. Others, he lifted weights or did agility drills on the basketball court at Cook Hall.

“I was really focused on getting my career started in strength and conditioning,” Houston said. “I was more focused on that, but I was still working out and staying in shape. Being in that profession, it’s easy because it’s all right there at your disposal. It wasn’t hard for me to get in the weight room.”

Lyonel Anderson, IU basketball’s head strength and conditioning coach, often jumps in and completes the drills he assigns to players. Houston did the same.

That training at Indiana served two purposes. It was an example for IU basketball players to follow and it helped keep his dream of another football opportunity within reach.

“Stephen always maintained in his head and in his beliefs that he was an NFL player and that he would continue to train and stay ready,” Anderson said. “To his credit, that’s what he did.”

And now he’s in Baltimore, taking advantage of an opportunity that was never guaranteed.

Turns out, when it came to his football career, Houston didn’t have to bag it after all.

2 comments

  1. You never know what turns your life will take only that you need to be ready for whatever comes. I hope Houston realizes his dream but more importantly use this as an opportunity to prepare for his life after football is over.

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