Preseason “Breakaway” trips at Pacific Lutheran University are times to laugh, learn — and cheer on the new rock stars of the football team.
Back in 2012, few knew Chase Houser, a newcomer out of Bothell who starred at Cedar Park Christian.
When it came time for customary nightly entertainment, coaches asked for volunteers among the players.
Houser — all 6-feet-4, 255 pounds of him — raised his hand.
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“He performed a Christian rap song,” said Ryan Chynoweth, who was also a freshman at the time on defense. “Nobody expected it. Here was this big, goofy guy sitting on the bench — he didn’t look musical. But everyone went nuts. He is really talented.”
Three years later, Houser is a senior on the defensive line and team captain.
His voice is being heard in other ways as an impact playmaker at defensive end. His four tackles for loss lead the Lutes.
“He is a lot better against the run than the pass,” PLU defensive coordinator Craig McCord said. “He is great keeping his pad level down … and beating those offensive tackles inside.
“He is definitely one of our better players.”
One of three brothers, Houser did not play football until his ninth-grade season at Cedar Park Christian. But as a senior, not only was he an all-1A Nisqually League linebacker, he led his school to its first-ever postseason berth.
When McCord saw Houser’s highlight film, he saw a young Brian Urlacher without blazing foot speed. So when Houser came to PLU, McCord shifted him to right-side defensive end.
“Growing up, I wasn’t naturally a talented football player. But I had a frame to muscle, and I grew to be pretty physical,” Houser said. “And at defensive end, (defending) the run comes better to me. I am good at reading the blocker, reading play flow and getting into windows.”
As far as his singing, Houser is humble yet not shy talking about growing up in youth choir at Cedar Park Church, where he was part of an ensemble competing at national competitions.
“When I am comfortable with good friends or family,” Houser said, “I sing all the time.”
After his initial “Breakaway” performance, Houser regularly sings for his teammates.
“All the guys call out his name,” McCord said. “He obliges.”
Last season, Houser was named one of the players of the game. Coach Scott Westering introduced him and asked him to say a few words to the large gathering — which he did.
And as Houser was ready to rejoin his family, Westering rushed up to put Houser on the spot to sing a song.
What did Houser delight the crowd with?
“John Legend,” Houser said.
“Staggering,” Westering said.
For his final “Breakaway” performance last August, Houser gave a rousing rendition of a Sam Smith song.
“There are two guys on the team — Chase and Reggie (Collins) — who are really good,” Chynoweth said. “We make them sing as much as possible.”
Even at games — on a whim — Houser has been known to break out in song.
“It is really helpful. It takes the edge off,” Chynoweth said. “Sometimes you might be nervous about something, and to have somebody loose like that, it takes your mind off how nervous the moment might be.”
Houser’s reputation is starting to grow with another group in football: Officiating crews.
“For pregame (instructions), I have walked up with the other captains,” Houser said. “And the ref has mentioned he heard I was a singer.”
Houser is an engineering major, but said he would leave the door open for music down the road.
“I am a strong Christian,” Houser said. “I want to be a steward for Him.”
PACIFIC LUTHERAN GAME DAY
GEORGE FOX (3-3, 1-2 in NWC) at PACIFIC LUTHERAN (0-5, 0-3)
1 p.m. Saturday, Sparks Stadium, Puyallup
Series: PLU won the schools’ only meeting last season, 49-7, in Puyallup. This is the Bruins’ second season of football.
What to watch for: With starting quarterback Jon Schaub (knee) out, the Lutes will turn to freshman Cole Chandler, out of Silverton, Oregon. The question is, can Chandler keep the job? Westering would not go that far. But he doesn’t need to — PLU has not hesitated in the past to stick with the hot hand, notably Marc Weekly over Eric Kurle (early 1990s), Dak Jordan over Karl Hoseth (mid-1990s) and Chad Johnson over Mark Andrus (late 1990s). Chandler, who passed for 196 yards and a touchdow, and ran for another 50 yards off the bench in last week’s 32-7 loss at Whitworth, seems to be a better fit behind an inexperienced offensive line because of his mobility. At the very least, when Schaub gets healthy and is ready to return, both signal callers should be involved in the game plan the rest of the season. … George Fox tailback John Shaffer (129 rushes, 529 yards, six TDs) continues to be one of the conference’s top rushing threats.
What’s at stake: PLU has never gone winless under Frosty or Scott Westering — and could continue that streak with a victory Saturday.
TNT pick: PLU, 24-21.
PUGET SOUND GAME DAY
PUGET SOUND (3-2, 2-1 in NWC) at LEWIS & CLARK (0-5, 0-3)
1 p.m. Saturday, Griswold Stadium, Portland
Series: UPS leads, 23-14. The Loggers ended a five-game skid in the series with a 38-7 victory in Tacoma — coach Jeff Thomas’ first win over the Pioneers.
What to watch for: It doesn’t take Thomas very long to recognize this Pioneers team is in full rebuilding mode under new coach Jay Locey. It looks a lot like Thomas’ first squad at UPS in 2010. Lewis & Clark does start 13 seniors, but most of its impact talent is in the groups behind. Its most impactful contributor on offense arguably is tight end Carl Appleton (27 catches, 305 yards, two TDs), who used to star on the men’s basketball team. … The Loggers’ passing attack took a big step forward in last week’s 43-35 win over George Fox. Quarterback Hans Fortune passed for a career-high 575 yards and four touchdowns. Fortune (138 of 226, 1,839 yards, 16 TDs) is the leading passer in NCAA Division III. Wide receiver Kevin Miller (63 catches, 616 yards, seven TDs) also is tops in the country in receptions per game (12.6).
What’s at stake: The Loggers still have thoughts of more than their first winning season since 2006 — a win keeps them in the conference championship hunt heading into November.
TNT pick: UPS, 48-14.