COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio Bobcats are off to a 4-1 start as they enter homecoming weekend against Kent State, thanks in part to the defense, led by on Olentangy Orange graduate.

The Bobcats are coming off a 38-7 win over Bowling Green, extending its Mid-American Conference regular-season win streak to eight games. The last conference game Ohio lost came against Toledo in the MAC championship, a 17-7 loss.

It that game OU didn’t have starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who suffered a torn knee ligament late in the 2022 season. Rourke and the Bobcats returned to form after an opening loss to San Diego State in which Rourke was pulled from the game for an injury not related to his knee.

But as good as Ohio’s offense has been under the reigning MAC MVP, and it’s been exceptional, the defense has been equally impressive. The Bobcats rank seventh in the country in fewest points allowed per game (10.8) and seventh in third-down defense.

The leader on that side of the ball is middle linebacker Bryce Houston. The Olentangy Orange graduate and team captain is in his sixth season with the Bobcats. His 49 total tackles is tied for 11th most in the country and 9.8 tackles per game ranks 16th in the nation.

“We knew what were capable of on the defensive side of the ball,” Houston said. “We all play for each other, so it’s just something that we take with pride.”

You can watch the full interview with Bryce Houston in the video player above.

Ohio has come close to winning the conference championship in recent years with five MAC East championships in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2016 and 2022. Houston believes Ohio can win its first MAC title since 1968.

“We kind of expect that, in all honesty. It was kind of a goal last year that we were going to go to the MAC championship and we were going to be successful. But at this point, I’d say it’s an expectation,” Houston said. “We know if we go to the MAC championship, we’ll come home first.”

Coming out of high school, Houston was a two-star recruit who was ranked as the 147th-best inside linebacker for the class of 2018, due in large part to being viewed as undersized at his position.

“It’s just a lot of patience and a lot of believing in myself. Even when I was here in the early stages of my college career, I was overlooked a little bit,” he said. “Starting in high school, I would say I was overlooked, and that’s just something that I’m always going to expect … but at the same time, I’m going to just keep chipping away and eventually I’m going to knock the tree down.”

He’s being overlooked once again for the NFL draft, according to Pro Football Network, which doesn’t expect the Houston to be selected. But Houston thrives when he’s overlooked.

“It’s just continuing to be a student, continue to evolve,” he said. “At my size, you’re always going to have to be able to adapt and be able to play different positions, different techniques and do different things. … I’m always going to roll with the punches, be able to learn, be able to adapt, and I think that’s my biggest trait to be able to make it to the next level.”

This is Houston’s third season as a captain and starting linebacker for the Bobcats. Last season, he started all 14 games and recorded 76 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. In 2021, Houston played in all 12 games for the Bobcats, leading the team with 104 tackles, including eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

His most notable performance this season came in Ohio’s 10-7 upset of Iowa State. The Bobcats limited the Cyclones to 38 yards rushing, with Houston totaling 15 tackles. He was awarded his second MAC East player of the week award for his effort. 

“We anticipated Bryce being where he’s at, to be honest with you,” coach Tim Albin said after the win over the Cyclones. “You saw in spring practice his preparation. He’s taken his game to another level. … He’s just done a phenomenal job in preparation, and he’s bigger, faster and stronger.” 

Orange Crush

Before his time at Ohio University, Houston was a force for Orange. As a senior, Houston was named all-metro and all-Ohio Capital Conference defensive player of the year while being voted all-state, all-district and all-Super 25 Team after leading his team to a 9-2 record. He was also named all-state, all-OCC, all-sistrict and Super 25 team as a junior.

He made 215 tackles, 151 solo, with 10 sacks and two career interceptions during his high school career while also serving as a team captain for his last two seasons. Houston was also a talented wrestler earning all-state honors in 2016 while placing at the state meet.

Houston said there were “trials and tribulations” he had to go through early in his college career, most notably overcoming the torn ACL he suffered in October 2017 of his senior year at Orange. But overcoming obstacles and expectations is what Houston does best, and it’s that determination the Bobcats will need to make history this season.