BY BRANDON SPECK
HOUSTON – Football is far from an afterthought in Houston.
Approximately 300 fans gave up sleep at midnight Friday to watch the Hilltoppers’ first full-pad practice of 2013 into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
“You get to actually see who’s going to bring it and who’s not,” said junior quarterback Garrison Howell. “Last year I thought it was a big turnout. I drove up this year and it shocked me. It’s a bunch of people out there.”
It was a late – or early – practice but it wasn’t a light practice. It didn’t take long to rotate stations with full-on hitting drills.
It was the third time Houston has held a midnight madness practice. The first time it was the opening practice in helmets and shorts. Last year, that changed.
“I decided that more people would come out and be interested if we did pads. They want to see hitting,” second-year coach William Cook said. “They want to see how it’s going to be this year. We had a good response and it’s grown from there. The kids love it.”
Last year’s success prompted a 45-minute highlight video Friday to go along with the tailgating before practice.
Houston is coming off the best season in school history, 11 wins for the first time, three wins in the Toppers’ first-ever playoff appearance.
This season doesn’t come without losses, though, none bigger than Daily Journal Defensive Player of the Year Chris Jones.
Jones, the defensive end who rose as high as the No. 2-ranked player in America, has carried his game to Mississippi State, where he has continued to climb.
He’s not the only loss, as six others are now also playing college football.
“It feels good to know the people are with you,” said junior running back Damien Fields. “We’ve been working hard. They have us doing hard drills to get us better than what we were last year.”