Senior fullback Sione Houma has spent most of his Michigan football career away from the spotlight. In three years, he has appeared mostly on special teams in 37 games.
But next Thursday will be a highlight, no matter what happens on the field.
Houma, a native of Salt Lake City, will return to his home state for the Wolverines’ season opener at Utah. It will be the first time he plays in his hometown in college.
Michigan and Utah announced their home-and-home series (Utah won last year at Michigan Stadium) in June 2012. Houma doesn’t remember when he found out about the games, but he knew then that he would kick off his senior season back at home.
“Being able to go over there and see my family and friends, it’ll be awesome,” Houma said. “And it’ll be a great payback. Going over there and coming back with a win will be great.”
Michigan’s 26-10 loss to Utah last season was only one setback amid a rough season, but the Wolverines will be looking for payback next week — and none will be more eager than Houma.
He’s still trying to round up as many tickets as he can for friends and family. He wants at least 30 or 40 — a “full house.”
There is one disappointment for Houma as he prepares for his trip home. Fellow Utah native Bryan Mone, a sophomore defensive tackle, broke a bone in his lower leg during practice and will likely miss the season.
That would mean that Houma has played with Mone for the last time. Whether Mone will make the trip with the team is still undecided, but Houma, who is very close to Mone, hopes he does.
Mone was expected to be in the rotation at defensive tackle this season. Houma’s role is still up in the air, but he could see time with first-year coach Jim Harbaugh at the helm. Harbaugh’s teams, most recently at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, have placed a strong emphasis on the fullback position.
Houma has already noticed a change during fall camp, as he, fifth-year senior Joe Kerridge and senior Bobby Henderson have each received an extra workload at fullback.
Kerridge projects as the starter when the offense takes the field next week, but Houma could make an appearance in relief or in power formations.
The fullbacks as a group, who rarely played under former coach Rich Rodriguez and then slowly started to return to prominence under former coach Brady Hoke, are now closer this year.
“Being able to do that, being out there with the offense, it’s really fun,” Houma said. “At the end of the day, we all get together as fullbacks and joke around.”
Houma, listed at 6-foot, 242 pounds, has not carried the ball in his career, though he caught two passes for 14 yards in 2013. He characterized himself more as a blocking back, a role he enjoys.
“I don’t mind touching the ball, but everything for me is making contact so I can open holes for the running back. They can just cut off the fullbacks and run for a lot of yards or even a touchdown. It’s something like that that gets me excited.
“Running the ball, that day will come for me. I can be patient about that. It’s just being able to go out there and knock someone out.”
He may get that chance Thursday night in his hometown — and that night will be worth the wait.