When a pair of “undersized athletes” got to Bradley Central four years ago they found someone who knew what they were facing.
The pair followed the example and encouragement of their new coach and leave the Bear program with reputations that rival his.
Having grown to the 5-foot-8, 160-pound neighborhood, neither Justin Houston nor Rue Goldston have let their size sell them short.
“I was 4-foot-11, 109 pounds in the eighth grade and was told by some in middle school that I’d never play in high school,” commented Goldston, who has been the District 5-AAA Defensive Back of the Year for the past two seasons. “When I got here, coach (Damon) Floyd encouraged me by telling me that he had done it and so could I.”
“I was 5-foot-8, 165 pounds my senior year in college, and was smaller than that when I played here (at Bradley), so I knew what they were facing,” stated Floyd, who was the 1995 District Player of the Year, wrapping up as standout gridiron career for the Bears before heading to play four years at UT-Chattanooga.
“I was about the same size as everybody else in middle school, but I quit growing when I got to high school,” declared Houston, the current District Running Back of the Year who finished his three-year varsity career with more than 4,000 all-purpose yards.
Although their high school careers have come to a close, neither Bear captain is ready to hang up their cleats.
“All we’re looking for is a chance to show what we can do,” Goldston remarked recently. “We love the sport and want to continue to play.”
“You just can’t look at somebody’s size and see what they can do,” Houston added. “We’re competitive and give it our all each time out.”
While Houston has drawn some interest from Tennessee Tech, UTC and Samford, Goldston is still looking for an opportunity.
“I’m working to improve my ACT score and I’m still working out (in the weight room) to stay in shape for any chance I get,” Goldston expressed. “I’m hoping for a chance to play somewhere like Austin Peay, Carson-Newman, UTC or an NAIA school. I don’t mind trying to walk on as long as I get a shot.”
The pair will get a chance to showcase their talents at the East-West All-Star Game being held at Carson-Newman Dec. 10.
“Justin is a straight A student (3.9 GPA) with a strong ACT score and will qualify for some academic scholarships, which will make him more attractive to some schools,” Floyd related. “Rue is working hard to get where he needs to be and has some schools interested in him.”
“They (Houston and Goldston) came in together and were in similar situations size wise, so they bonded immediately and became close friends,” the Bear coach stated. “They both hit the weight room hard and have become a couple of our top lifters.”
Both are bench pressing close to double their weight, with Goldston topping out at 305 and Houston at 300, plus they are squatting 410 and 400 respectively.
“In the offseason, we go to some weightlifting competitions and they are always at the top,” Floyd related. “It’s something to watch 150-pound guys benching more than 300 pounds.”
Along with their physical strength adding to their natural abilities, the pair are also extremely fast, having been hand timed in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash.
“Rue is probably a little faster straight ahead, but Justin has such great instincts and moves that he makes a lot of people miss when they try to tackle him,” Floyd said of the pair that make up half of Bradley’s 4x200 relay team that finished sixth at the TSSAA State Track Meet in May.
Goldston also makes up for his height disadvantage with a 38-inch vertical leap, which he showed off in the annual Bradley-Cleveland game this year when he hurdled a 6-foot tall would-be tackler on national television.
“I saw him looking at my knees, so I just jumped over him,” stated Goldston, who has shown his leaping ability repeatedly in making interceptions and knocking passes away from opponents.
With his first two varsity seasons mainly spent on defense, Goldston was also a key component in the Bear offense that gained almost 4,400 yards this past season while the team made its second straight trip to the TSSAA playoffs.
After averaging 9.9 yards a carry on just nine rushes as a junior, he got the ball 63 times this year, gaining 373 yards. He also scored a half dozen times, including a 55-yard “Pick 6” interception return for the final Bear score to secure a 41-39 victory over Ooltewah.
Goldston finished the season with 50 solo tackles in his more than 80 total hits, plus he had four “sacks” in 10 tackles for loss. He also knocked away seven passes and caused a pair of fumbles. He had 35 solo tackles, picked off a team-leading four interceptions and had 15 pass breakups in 2010.
Although he didn’t play much defense, Houston also returned an interception (31 yards) for a score in the Ooltewah game for one of his area leading 19 touchdowns this past season.
Houston, who scored on a 92-yard run on his first varsity carry in the 2009 season opener against Polk County, did his damage this season with amazing efficiency — averaging 11.8 yards per carry (85 for 1,006 yards) and 20.4 yards on 24 receptions (for 490 yards).
Despite missing a game and a half with an injury, he scored 13 touchdowns on the ground and five with long runs after a catch. A dozen of his scores were on plays of 30 or more yards, five of which covered better than 65 yards.
“I can’t say enough about these guys,” declared Floyd. “This whole group of seniors have been a pleasure to work with and have accomplished so much. It all starts with Justin and Rue. They have led by example. The rest of the team have had their eyes on them.”
“They are the type of guys coaches love. There are very unselfish. They are, ‘Yes sir. No sir.’ They’ve never been in trouble in school,” the coach praised. “They exemplify what we want ‘Bradley Bear’ football to be.”
“There are a lot of players in college their size. Maybe not at the ‘Tennessees’ and ‘Alabamas,’ but at other levels. I have no doubt they (Houston and Goldston) can play (at the college level). I did and both of them are more athletic than I ever was,” Floyd concluded.
While their “size” may hurt them with some recruiters, the true measure of Houston and Goldston can’t be done with a yardstick. Heart and desire doesn’t come in inches and pounds.