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2020 NFL draft interview: Introducing John Houston, USC’s versatile linebacker prospect

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NCAA Football: California at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

If your favorite team is looking for a three-down linebacker in the 2020 NFL draft, USC’s John Houston might represent the best value in the class.

A versatile prospect with a well-rounded skill set, Houston recently spoke exclusively with MCM about his time at USC, what he loves about playing linebacker and why an NFL team should use one of their draft picks on him.

JM: You decided to return to USC for your senior season in 2019. Walk me through that decision.

JH: I returned for my senior season to better myself and to improve my game. I felt like I had more on the table. I had some things I still needed to prove to some people. I really wanted to showcase my versatility and I believe I did that. I knew that I would be one of the older guys on the team now. I enjoyed mentoring the young guys. I wanted to help bring USC back from the 5-7 record we put together in 2018. That was obviously a big disappointment to us all. We did a great job bouncing back and finishing with an 8-5 record. It’s unfortunate that we lost our bowl game but we put together a nice season. It was a big decision but I feel like I made the right one.

JM: That’s a great reason to return to school. You ended up wrapping up your career with a total of 167 total tackles in 37 career games, including 23 starts. How will you look back on your time at USC?

JH: I had a great time at USC. I grew and learned a lot as a person. I definitely matured throughout my time there. I have a clear picture of what kind of person I am now. It’s all about growth and change. I have a lot to thank USC for. If you look at my first couple of starts versus my last couple of starts, you’ll see a completely different player on film. It’s always a work in progress. USC taught me how to keep my foot on the gas.

JM: What would you say is your favorite part about playing the linebacker position?

JH: I enjoy being the quarterback of the defense. We have to understand the game at such a high level. I just love going out there to compete. I enjoy having the responsibility of making sure everyone around me is lined up and what not. I love watching film and preparing each and every day. The more film you watch, the more plays you’ll make. It just helps you be more instinctive. As a linebacker, you have to play fast and free. You have to recognize what’s going on at all times. If you’re even just a split second behind, things aren’t gonna go well for you. You have to make plays when your time comes.

JM: That’s a great answer. You’ve played for so many great coaches throughout your time at USC. What’s the biggest lesson any coach ever taught you?

JH: The coaching staff does a great job preaching patience. Everybody wants to come in at USC and be a starter but you have to wait your turn and put the work in. Everybody wants to be a difference maker but you have to better yourself first. Everybody has that perception but it doesn’t always work that way. Patience is a virtue and it’s incredibly key at USC. My parents taught me that from a young age. You just have to keep your head down and keep going. Patience is most important when times get tough. You can’t rush things, especially tough times. You’re gonna go through it sometimes.

JM: I love that. A true lesson indeed. When it comes to playing linebacker, do you prefer to attack downhill in the run game or to drop back in coverage?

JH: I feel like my versatility serves me a little better in coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared to come downhill and attack the run game. I love that as well. I have the mentality where I don’t back down from anything. I’ll face it head on. I’m a football player at the end of the day. I do feel like my best attributes are in coverage though. I can get down and dirty in the run game as well. You have to be able to come downhill and make tackles. It’s all about making big plays for my defense.

JM: That’s the truth. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis appears to have a very bright future in front of him. What can you tell me about him?

JH: He’s a quiet guy but he always makes a play when you give him a chance to. He reminds me of Sam Darnold a little bit. He’s always in control out there. He has a lot of poise. He trusts his receivers to make plays and he’s gonna give them a chance to. He plays free. Even when he’s having a bad practice, he’s still out there slinging it. He loves to test coverage in practice. He’s incredibly competitive. He’s not a big trash talker but his play definitely speaks for itself. He’s a great, great young quarterback that comes to work every day ready and willing to get better. It was great to play alongside him.

JM: That’s awesome. Thanks for your time today, John. In closing, why should an NFL team use one of their draft picks on John Houston?

JH: A team should give me a shot because I’m an all-around good football player. I’m always willing to learn something new. I’m never afraid of the challenge put in front of me. I’m always ready to go out there and play. I’m a good, humble person that would be a welcomed addition to any locker room. I try to be a role model for my teammates. I’m a play-maker in every sense of the word. I’m always watching film, working on myself and trying to get better. I always wanna be better and do better. I’m a dependable guy at the end of the day.