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Houston, we have a Belton

L-E QB part of new Citadel coach's first signing class

Posted: February 6, 2014 2:51 p.m.
Updated: February 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

For two weeks, Shon Belton must have felt as if the rug was pulled from under his feet.
Throughout most of the late fall and weeks of early winter, the Lugoff-Elgin senior had his heart and mind set on accepting an offer from The Citadel to continue his football-playing and academic careers at the Charleston military institution. Then, from out of nowhere, Bulldog head coach Kevin Higgins left the school to take an assistant coaching job at Wake Forest.
The move left Belton, the Demons’ multi-purpose quarterback, in limbo while the Citadel went about the process of selecting its next football coach. During that time, other schools started making inroads with the six-foot, 185-pounder. That all came to a grinding halt when former Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Mike Houston was named as The Citadel’s 24th head coach in mid-January.
One of the first stops Houston made was to the Belton household. Belton took it from there, cementing his relationship with The Citadel by signing a National Letter of Intent with the Southern Conference member on Wednesday morning surrounded by family, coaches and friends inside the L-E Wellness Center.
“It feels great. It’s a relief,” Belton said after having posed for pictures and greeting well-wishers. “This is what I’ve been waiting for for a long time. It’s finally here and I’m excited. I’m ready for next year. I’m excited for my family because I know they’re excited for me and knowing where I will be going next summer.”
That wait will probably seem as long as that of standing by and waiting to see if the new Citadel coach would continue Belton’s recruitment, as did Higgins and his staff.
“The Citadel came in early and really wanted Shon before the staff change,” said L-E head football coach Scott Jones. “Then, as they were going through a change of staff, there were question marks about whether the new staff wanted Shon. With the retention of J.P. Gunter, who is the recruiting coordinator for The Citadel, I think he was able to go in and say, ‘Look. We already have our eye on this guy.’
“Newberry got into the mix and a lot of other colleges started talking to Shon. When Coach Houston got on board, he took one look at Shon and he told me, ‘The guy can play and we feel that he’ll fit in good with our system.”
Newberry College, in fact, made a big play for Belton to the point where the Wolves might have been the beneficiary of The Citadel’s lengthy coaching search. “I was thinking about Newberry during the time when they didn’t have a coach,” Belton said of The Citadel. “I was kind of disappointed that Coach Higgins left. But I’m real excited about Coach Houston.
“There was a two week time period when there was no conversation at all. Then, one day, Coach Houston called me up and said, ‘Hey, I’m down here in Lugoff and I want to see you.’ He came to the house and we talked for a long time. We got everything situated and we were ready to go.”
There is a lot to like about the athletic Belton who whose 2,025 yards in offense accounted for nearly 69 percent of those which the L-E offense had in 2013. The three-year starter rushed for a team-best 1,278 yards and 14 touchdowns on 214 carries. He passed for 726 yards and four touchdowns while also having one catch for a 21-yard gain. On special teams, Belton returned 21 kicks for 586 yards and brought back three punts for 24 yards.
Thinking of losing a player who could post such gaudy numbers left Jones shaking his head as to how to replace Belton. On this day, however, the Demon boss praised his former signal-caller and talked about a young man who has the entire package.
“We’re so proud of him, but we’re going to miss him,” Jones said.
“We’re so excited for Shon. If anybody ever deserved it, it’s him. You talk about a young man who went to class, did what he was supposed to do and worked hard not only in football but as well as on the academic side of things. It’s a great tribute to him and his family.”
At a military institution like The Citadel, discipline is demanded, both on and off the playing field. Belton said after his visits to the school, he liked what he saw more and more each passing day.
“I’d been to a couple colleges before I went to The Citadel,” he said, “ and when I finally made it to The Citadel, it just felt like home. It felt like it was my second home. The Citadel was a great choice for me.
“Coach Houston was always up front and honest with me. The coaching staff is great. I’m really excited about next year.”
Houston will bring the triple option to Charleston with him. During his meetings with Belton, the Bulldog head coach sat down with the former L-E standout and the pair watched plenty of film in showing Belton what will be asked of him at the next level. Belton said Houston was impressed with his arm and legs and how he fits into the scheme.
While the Demons ran a version of the option in their offense, Jones said it was nothing like what Belton will be asked to run at quarterback at The Citadel.
“We’ve had some option elements in our offense through the years but not full-tilt like they have,” Jones said. “I think they saw that Shon is a good runner and is a passer who can be developed in their offensive scheme. I think they see that he has an awful lot of potential for the next couple years.”
Not only did Houston help bring Belton up to speed with his offense operates during a game, but the pair also watched what a Houston-run practice will be like for Belton. A smile broke out on the former Demons’ quarterback’s face when asked what challenges lie ahead in playing football at the next level.
“The biggest adjustment will have to be the amount of reps,” Belton said of the practice routine in college.
“In high school, we’d go in and run an offensive period. I watched their practice film and it’s crazy what they do and the amount of reps; it’s over and over and over. You’re going to have to do it in your sleep to remember all the stuff. It’s going to be a real adjustment for me.”
Making the entire adjustment to The Citadel and its football program a bit easier for Belton will be the fact that former L-E standout Julian Baxter is entering his senior season with the Bulldogs. Baxter took Belton under his wing for his official visit last weekend and is someone the newcomer can lean on for help and advice.
“I think that Shon is going to do great down there,” Jones said. “He’s a disciplined young man and when he puts his mind into doing something, he does it full speed. And having Julian Baxter there is going to be good for Shon because he already knows Julian, who can be a mentor to Shon.
“I think Shon is really excited about getting this opportunity.”

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