Confidence goes a long way in any endeavor -- especially professional sports. Former Georgia Bulldogs defensive end Justin Houston, who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, has plenty of it.
And he believes it’s key to maintain such a mindset to succeed in the NFL.
Houston and teammate Tamba Hali, who plays on the opposite side of Houston on the Chiefs’ defensive line, anchor one of the league’s best defenses with dominant pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks. In Houston’s mind, he and Hali make up the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL.
“I’d say so. I think everybody should think the same way,” Houston said at Charles Johnson’s Sports Academy and Community Night last month in Hawkinsville. “I think you should think that as an NFL player, think you’re the best and believe you’re the best. I really do think we are.”
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But it’s not just a matter of believing; the stats are in the duo’s favor. Since Houston was drafted 70th overall by Kansas City in 2011, the two have combined for 86.5 sacks, by far the best by any duo during the span.
Houston alone accounted for 22 sacks last year, which ranks second in NFL history for a single season behind only Michael Strahan, who finished with 22½ sacks in 2011.
But Houston also makes an impact off the field. He was asked to make an appearance at Johnson’s charity event because of their Georgia Bulldogs ties, but he decided to attend because of his own personal experiences as a kid.
“I know, growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet any NFL players,” Houston said. “So, any time I can come back and brighten a kid’s day, I’ll do it. Any time I can work any camp and somebody calls me asking if I’m interested in working a camp, I’m there. If my schedule allows, I’m there.”
Houston and the Chiefs will look forward to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs in 2014. In 2013, the first year under head coach Andy Reid, Kansas City defied expectations and reached the playoffs with an 11-5 record one year after winning only two games.
Defense, as it has been the past two years, will be the calling card for success. In the 2013 playoff berth, the team ranked tied for fifth in points allowed; in 2014, it ranked tied for second. And that was without three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry for 10 games as he battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It was tough, because he was a close friend for me; he’s like family to me,” Houston said of Berry, who grew up in Fairburn. “It was tough not having him on the field, but God willing, he pulled through the situation, so hopefully he’ll be ready to go for this season.”
With Berry back on the field for 2015, the Chiefs’ defense will seek to continue the upward trend and achieve a feat not yet attained -- allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL.
“I think it’ll be really big,” Houston said of Berry’s return. “I think he’s one of the best safeties in the game. Any time you get one of the key pieces to your defense back, it’ll help a lot.”