The Times West Virginian

Sports

April 13, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU punter turns heads at linebacker

MORGANTOWN — They call him “Huey the Punter.”

His real name is Houstin Syvertson. His real position is not punter. Not anymore, anyway.

To be honest, until Saturday’s spring game, not many people following West Virginia football knew the name or the nickname. They know it now.

See, he is one of those stories that come out of spring practice that make it worthwhile. First, we have to let you know how we came to be aware of “Huey the Punter.”

The offense ran a sweep to its right and a defender wearing a No. 42 jersey came up to try and make the play. If you are squeamish, you might want to turn your head right now. Two blockers reached him at the same time and literally wiped him out.

It was right there in front of everyone. Grabbing a roster, we looked at it and it read “42 Houstin Syvertson P.” Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette said, “That can’t be him. No. 42 is a linebacker.”

I answered, “I think it is. Did you see the way they buried him? Looked like a punter to me.”

We even asked for some guidance, but none was to be had at that moment. A few plays later quarterback Skyler Howard went back to pass and was sacked. On top of him was No. 42, “Huey the Punter.”

By the time the game ended, “Huey the Punter” was “Syvertson the Linebacker,” finishing with two tackles and an assist.

What was going on here?

Turns out that Syvertson was Mr. Do Everything at Shady Side High a couple of years.

“I played a lot of positions. I went from linebacker to running back to receiver to defensive end. I went through all those. I picked up punting in ninth grade, did pretty good at that and got nationally ranked,” he explained.

He did all this to raise some interest in college programs.

“I had a bunch of opportunities to go to a bunch of schools like Robert Morris, Rutgers, some D II schools around West Virginia,” he said. “Then, they gave me an opportunity to come here and I took it.”

An opportunity, not a scholarship.

“I’m a West Virginia boy. I always watched West Virginia football. I loved West Virginia football. It’s three hours away from home. It was one of my dreams. I just wanted to be a Mountaineer,” he said.

His mind was made up.

“They told me they were recruiting me as an athlete and would see how I fit in the mix,” he said.

The way he fit was as a backup punter, but last year they gave him some shots on the scout team and he caught the coaching staff’s eye.

“Huey the Punter,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said when his sack was brought up. “He’s a great kid. We talked to him before spring ball started and said we think you have a role on this team on special teams and at linebacker. Come help us out. He’s gotten better every day.”

He got better every day because he worked at it … hard.

“I felt I had a better chance of getting on the field if I played linebacker and they threw me in there,” Syvertson said. “Last fall, during the season, I was on scout team, not really learning much about our plays. I got into the mix this spring and it’s going good right now.”

Good, indeed.

“I love the way he plays,” Gibson said. “He plays with a passion. He’s a kid from West Virginia and he loves it, knows what it’s all about. I’m proud of him. He had a couple of tackles today. He looked good.”

After the wipeout, of course.

“Eli Wellman and Dustin Garrison came up and smacked me good. But I still got the tackle after that, so that felt good,” he said.

It also taught him a lesson.

“It told me I need to keep on my feet and run harder,” he said.

And that’s just what he did when he sacked Howard.

“It felt awesome because QBs had been in gold jerseys all practices and we weren’t allowed to touch them, so that felt really good,” he said. He acted the part, too, flexing his muscles as the crowd roared. “I didn’t hear anything. I was kind of toned out. The adrenaline was pumping. I got a high 5 from all my teammates, so that felt great.”

And that’s the perfect way for spring practice to end.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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