Overcoming mother's death helps Yough lineman Houseman grow as leader
His mother's death in 2004 revealed inner strength he never knew he had. And the anguish that followed allowed Scott Houseman's once-fragile psyche to catch up with his fast-growing body.
It's a sad story but one from which Houseman gained perspective.
"It took a while to deal with it all," said Houseman, a senior at Yough. "It was tough growing up with one parent. But I knew it was something that can help make you into a man, make you more adultish. It helped me build character and made me more of a man."
Debra (Sterner) Houseman died of pancreatic cancer when her son was 4. Scott Houseman was with his sister, Heather, at a gymnastics meet when they got the gut-wrenching call.
"She was in hospice at home," Scott said. "She held on until we got there. It was hard to get over."
Housman has helped to keep his family unit intact: his father, Melvin, Heather (22) and brother, Daniel (26). And he has done the same with his teammates, stepping into a leadership role that could be critical to a team with experience and a super-sized front line.
"If the kids aren't paying attention or are acting up, Scotty will tell them to shut up," Yough coach Scott Wood said. "And they listen to him. He's a phenomenal leader. He doesn't put anyone down. If he pancakes you, he picks you right up."
While he isn't quite sure where he gets his size, Houseman is imposing at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds. Those measurements alone have garnered feeler-interest from Pitt, Penn State and Temple. But Houseman, who will move from guard to center and play defensive tackle, wants to make mom proud with his play, not his roster specs.
Yough's Cougar Mountain Stadium has new artificial turf, and Houseman plans to leave footprints in the carpet for his teammates to follow. The senior lineman, not the stadium, is the Big House.
"I want to do the best I can to carry on her name, her story," he said. "I want people to be aware (of pancreatic cancer)."
Houseman even talked about cutting his thick head of blonde hair and donating it to charity. He makes sure everyone knows his flowing, blonde locks give him the best hairdo on the team.
"Whatever I can do," he said. "Cancer (stinks)."
Houseman likes to look at things with realistic perspective: Football is only a game and can help him get into college if it's played well.
"It's one part of life, and it would be great if it can help me get free college," Houseman said. "I don't want to get cocky. If you get too cocky and shoot for the stars, you end up not living up to the hype."
Houseman is an easy-going teen. He is just the big kid in class.
He drives a tiny Mazda 3 — like Teddy Ruxpin shoved into a Barbie car — and ducks through doorways.
"I can reach the top shelf in the grocery store, which is nice," Houseman said. "But every time I sleep, my legs hang off the bed. And clothing is really expensive. It's hard to find my size."
But the big man fits nicely on Yough's front line.
He is eager to play center. He did so during 7-on-7 tournaments and enjoyed the experience.
"Your center has to be your best lineman," Wood said. "Scotty's football IQ is tremendous."
Housman will look to open running lanes for junior running back Dustin Shoaf, a 1,000-yard rusher last season. Defensively, Yough literally can bring the House.
But don't forget that time Houseman played quarterback — screech goes the needle as it slides off the turntable.
It was a 7-on-7 scrimmage. Let him tell it:
"We were short on some guys," he said. "Coach asked me if I wanted to play QB. I was like, 'Yeah, I can do that.' I slung it around."
With his real-life experiences, Houseman has helped teammates cope with similarly challenging times. Junior lineman Nate McGill came home from a weightlifting workout in February and found his father, David, dead from an epileptic seizure. He was 47.
And junior running back Dustin Stange's mother has battled breast cancer and is trying to keep the illness at bay.
Football has been a safe haven for the players.
"I just know I can go out and make my dad proud," McGill said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. He got me into football and wanted to see me improve. These (situations) have helped unite our team. We're brothers. We support each other."
Said Wood: "We're one big support system."
Pitt also has inquired about McGill.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.