ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Isaiah Houi told his dad at a very young age that his reason for playing was he wanted to be the best. Why else?
Now it’s his senior year and he is one of the best Hononegah and the NIC-10 have ever seen. So, how did he do it?
“I fell in love with it pretty early,” said the senior defensive back.
His love of the game started early on, about the time when the football was still bigger than he was.
“This has been more than just a sport, it’s a family thing for us,” said Isaiah’s father Sean Houi.
It was college football on Saturday’s, then watching the Cleveland Browns on Sunday’s. Isaiah got his first taste of the game at three years old when he started playing flag football.
“While playing flag, he expressed an interest in playing tackle,” said Sean. “I would always ask him, ‘you sure you want to do that when you see hard hits. You sure you want to do that? Yeah dad, I want to play tackle.'”
He made one of his first big tackles at six years old, and as they say…the rest is history.
“Saturday mornings, most kids are up watching cartoons, he’s watching college football and, you know, our football games would be 10, 11 o’clock, and by 8:30, he’s got full pads on,” said Sean laughing. “Full pads on, ready to play.”
Isaiah has spent his entire life with Sean by his side, not only as dad, but as his coach too.
“He coached me ever since I was little, all until high school,” said Isaiah. “You know, after every football game, he wouldn’t tell me what I did good, he would tell me where I messed up and I feel like that was really huge for me.”
“That was always our thing,” said Sean. “After the game, we talk about what we could have done better.”
All of that coaching from the sidelines, and nowadays from the stands, has molded him into the player we get to see every Friday night.
“It’s just a dad thing for him, you know,” said Isaiah smiling. I’m his son, so he definitely, he puts a lot more pressure on me than, you know, someone else would.”
And 17 years later, he still has something to say as he watches his boy play.
“I still yell from the sidelines, and I do a little bit of coaching,” said Sean. “But you know, he’s surpassed, I think, what I can give him.”
Sean trusted Isaiah to those in the Hononegah football program once he was a freshman in high school. Head coach Brian Zimmerman knew he was different from the very start.
“When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s something special,” said Zimmerman.
Isaiah has been key two-way player for Hononegah since he started on varsity as a sophomore. He’s also their best kick returner, so that makes him a triple threat.
“I mean, you better be aware of where he’s at on offense and where he’s at on defense because he’s going to come up and hit ya and he’s going to catch the ball.”
He’s currently the NIC-10’s leading receiver with over 400 yards and six touchdowns through six games this season.
“I didn’t know it was possible after last season to see him improve, you know, as much as he’s done,” said Zimmerman. “But this year, there’s a different gear, he’s a different ball player this year.”
It’s a testament to his hard work and the countless hours put in off the field. Whether it’s training or lifting; Isaiah has an internal drive to improve every single day, that’s why he’s where he is today.
“Just relentlessness and just a willingness to do whatever you have to do to get better, even listen to your dad when he talks to you about it,” said Sean smiling.
All of that hard work has paid off, and it’s time to check one box off the list.
“When he received his first Division I scholarship, it’s a very memorable moment for me,”said Sean. “When he walked off of a camp and his eyes and his smile, that’s something I’ll never forget, and that’s something that he’s wanted for a long time.”
17 years, give or take.
“Definitely just playing Division I football, that’s really just a start,” said Isaiah. “It’s just a start of the journey to get to where I want to be.”
His journey as a DI athlete will start next fall at the University of Northern Iowa. He committed to play defensive back there earlier this summer.
“I personally believe with his hard work and effort, that he’ll stand out there as well,” said Sean.
But for now, we’ll watch him stand out, for one more season before he takes the purple and gold to the next level.
“That’s our thing,” said Zimmerman. “Let’s watch Isaiah get the ball and have some fun.”
And we all definitely have fun when it happens, but I’m sure opposing teams feel differently.