Doug Belk gives the University of Houston defense an identity — and a plan.
Hassan Hypolite gives this University of Houston football team a leader in the secondary. (Courtesy UH Athletics)
UH cornerback Art Green went up high to snag this interception. (@UHCougar FB)
UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk is already one of the more respected coordinators in the country.
University of Houston quarterback Clayton Tune is the rare fifth year senior starter. (Courtesy UH Athletics)
The University of Houston's facilities are about to receive another major upgrade with the addition of a new football building. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dana Holgorsen and UH football find themselves still riding a winning streak. (@UHCougarFB)
Marcus Jones was an electric threat with the ball in his hands. And when he tried to take it away in the secondary. (@UHCougarFB)
University of Houston football has reason to celebrate this season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Doug Belk is already one of the more respected and well known defensive coordinators in college football. He’s the highest paid assistant coach in the University of Houston’s history. But also, in some ways, he’s still a defensive backs coach at heart.
That is how the still-only 34-year-0ld Belk first started building his coaching career at Division II Valdosta State. That is the position he worked with at Alabama under Nick Saban, a former secondary coach himself. Saban doesn’t always like to expound on things, but get him talking about coverage technique and he’ll go on for 45 minutes. Defensive back coaches are often a different breed.
So maybe it’s no surprise that Belk is taking making sure UH’s secondary is ready personally. This is clearly one of the biggest question marks hovering over a Houston team coming off a 12 win season, a consensus Top 25 team. Maybe, the biggest question mark.
And Belk is putting that challenge on himself.
“Obviously the production that we lost at that position is well noted,” Belk says when I ask him about the secondary. “So that’s a challenge for guys like Art (Green) and Alex (Hogan) who played significant roles for us last year to increase their production and go into starting roles.
“And we play a lot of guys in the secondary. I take a lot of pride in being a great teacher — so it’s a challenge for me as well.”
How well Belk teaches up UH’s secondary — particularly the cornerbacks — will go a long way towards determining the Cougars’ ultimate fortunes. Houston returns Hasaan Hypolite and Gervarrius Owens at safety. But Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams, the difference making cornerbacks on that 12 win team, are both in the NFL. The electrifying Jones already looks like an early Bill Belichick favorite.
These are absences that are impossible to miss.
That puts the pressure on the returning Green, Hogan and Jayce Rogers. Redshirt freshmen Mike Welch and Jalen Emery, junior college transfer Moses Alexander (who’s battled a hamstring in camp) and junior Garrison Vaughn also will be in the mix.
“We’ve got to get those guys ready,” Bell says. “A big indication for us in how good we can be this year is if we can replace some of the production at corner.”
The Doug Belk Experience
Doug Belk is making this his mission, his challenge too. The rising college football coaching star is putting it on himself to make sure a defensive backs room that lost some vital voices is just as energized as ever.
“I’ll make sure that those guys are ready to go,” Belk vows. “They’ve got to prove they can play at a high level. A lot of the talk around the building is Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams’ impact as far as playing the game.
“But their impact in the locker room was just as big as far as leading that room, challenging guys and playing at a high level. We’re not trying to reinvent those guys. . . Just trying to develop a new identity.”
Making that an equally imposing one — without Jones and Williams — is the challenge.
“To be honest with you, we really not shooting to be as good as we were last year,” Hasaan Hypolite says. “We trying to be better. Being like Top 6, stuff like that, a lot of people would be like ecstatic with that.
“But we use that to fuel the fire. We want to take it to Top 3 now. Let’s be Top 3, Top 2 now. Let’s see how far we can go. That’s the type of energy we’ve got in this building.”
Having Hypolite, who delivered one of UH’s most impactful halftime speeches last season, provides something of a step up on building that identity. But in an ever-increasingly pass happy game, there is no substitute for cover corners who can make plays.
Doug Belk knows he needs to make sure Houston has some of those guys. That push will start with Art Green and Alex Hogan.
“Art has made huge strides since he’s been here,” Belk says. “He’s a big-time football player. The expectation is high for him. Alex came in from Texas Tech and he was able to help us in a lot of different ways last year. He has big-time playmaking ability.”
“I take a lot of pride in being a great teacher — so it’s a challenge for me as well.” — UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk
UH head coach Dana Holgorsen is confident in the cornerback talent on the roster.
“I think we can replace ’em,” Holgorsen says of losing Jones and Williams. “We recruited pretty well. It’s just about logging the reps, man.”
Belk must build the belief too. Jones and Williams never doubted their own abilities, the superiority of their skills and will. Now, Belk tries to foster that in a new group. Coaches don’t often put things on themselves in such a stark, unmistakable manner.
Then again, Doug Belk’s never taken the usual path.
“It’s about creating the mentality that we have to be good on the outside,” Belk says.
Spoken like a man who wants all the smoke. Doug Belk is not shying away from the biggest question mark hovering around his defense. Instead he’s almost eagerly taking it on. It’s his personal challenge too.