SPARTANBURG ó Mike Houston knows what itís like to enter a job when expectations are strong, yet recent performances have not met those goals. Thatís what he faces as Citadelís first-year coach with a loyal fan base longing for the Bulldogs to again play consistent, winning football.
Citadel had one of the most effective option attacks in the country in the 1990s, has struggled to find success lately with only two winning seasons since 1997. Coach Kevin Higgins had appeared to find an answer when he reinstituted the option game four seasons ago and went 12-11 the past two years. But Higgins left for an assistantís spot at Wake Forest, joining his friend, new Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson, and Citadel tapped Houston from Lenoir-Rhyne to move things forward.
Houston doesnít believe the transition has been too difficult because heís a student of the option offense and brought that to the Bulldogs.
ďI donít know if Iíd call it easy, but I believe itís easier than at some places because these kids were recruited to this offense,Ē Houston said. ďSo we might be further ahead than we were at Lenoir-Rhyne.Ē
It didnít take Houston long: He had Lenoir-Rhyne playing in the NCAA Division II national title game last December in his third year there.
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Houstonís familiarity with Citadelís offense and having a senior quarterback in Aaron Miller has the first-year coach hopeful that the Bulldogs can compete strongly from the jump. Houston has won a conference championship in each of three years as a college head coach and isnít ready to concede that streak yet.
While Aaron Miller is a fifth-year senior, heís spent the past few seasons backing up previous Bulldogsí starter Ben Dupree. Miller played in nine games a year ago, rushing for 196 yards and passing for 407 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. After Miller, Citadel is short on experience.
The Bulldogs should be strong up front led by all-Southern Conference defensive end Justin Oxendine, who tied for fifth in the league 11 1-2 tackles for loss. Junior Mark Thomas has recorded 9 1-2 sacks in two seasons of play and figures to see time at the other end spot.
It wonít be a cushy opening for Citadel, which starts play against Big South champion and NCAA playoff participant Coastal Carolina before heading to play at national champion Florida State the next week. When the Bulldogs begin Southern Conference play in week five, itís against Wofford who theyíve lost 15 straight to.
SILVER SHAKO BATTLE
Citadelís yearly contest with VMI for the Silver Shako trophy is again a conference game. The Keydets returned to the Southern Conference this fall after several years in the Big South. The Bulldogs have had the edge the past two decades, having won 16 of 20 meetings including the last seven in the game between military colleges.