High School Sports

Justin Houston brings ‘eighth-year senior’ maturity to Gardena Serra

Gardena Serra linebacker Justin Houston chases after a ball carrier during a drill at the Opening Los Angeles Regional camp on Feb. 10.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

The recruiting process is nothing new for Justin Houston. He’s been watching it unfold for the better part of a decade.

He enters his final year at Gardena Serra High at the same time older brother, John Jr., embarks on his redshirt senior season at USC. John was a high-profile national recruit and became an Under Armour All-American at Serra in 2015. Justin was there to watch every step of the way. He said he’s seen everything twice now as he is being recruited by college football programs all over the nation. He knows what to do and not to do because of that experience.

“What makes Justin so good is that nothing is a surprise to him,” Serra coach Scott Altenberg said. “He’s seen it all from the recruiting to the game to everything because his brother went through it and they’re like carbon copies of each other as far as what they do and how they’re being recruited.

“I think that’s what really helps Justin out,” he added. “He is like an old soul in our weight room and then on the field because it’s as if he’s an eighth-year senior.”


The Houston brothers have been coveted because of their combination of height, length and athleticism. John was 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds coming out of high school. He was rated as a four-star recruit and the No. 49 overall prospect in his class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings. Justin is a 6-foot-3 1/2, 186-pound four-star player that is ranked the No. 21 outside linebacker in the nation and No. 311 overall prospect. John ran the 40-yard dash quicker in high school than Justin, but Altenberg says Justin is the better athlete overall.

“Justin is an amazing athlete,” he said. “I mean, he can play receiver. He can run like a receiver. For a linebacker, his athleticism is off the charts. He’s so long and he can go get it.”

He is a versatile defender that takes on a lot of roles in the Serra defense. He can be used in the box to stop the run or outside on the edge to defend the passing game. He has averaged more than 10 tackles per game over the last two years with 10 tackles for loss, eight pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown.

“People can’t do what I can do. I can guard,” Justin said. “I can guard a slot receiver to a tight end. I can pass rush. I can do everything by a linebacker.”


Altenberg loves his athleticism but says just as important is his knowledge of the game. Justin hasn’t been taught by just the Serra coaches. He’s also had John as a role model at the linebacker position, one he’s able to learn from and talk to every day.

During games once the Serra defensive coaches signal a play in to Justin, they feel their job is done. Justin will take care of the rest, making pre-snap adjustments as needed.

“We just kind of walk away and it’s all taken care of,” Altenberg said. “He’s got everybody going where they need to go and what they need do. He’s just got kind of that whole package and he’s been in the system for like 10 years with his brother being here too.”

His own path

Justin has been a routine visitor on USC’s campus to watch practices and games over the last four years. It might seem like a foregone conclusion that he would follow his brother to USC.

But Justin’s interests are currently elsewhere and as his college decision approaches, he has not received a scholarship offer from the Trojans. Arizona State has offered. As has Oregon. So have schools from each of the Power Five conferences, including the Southeastern Conference’s Louisiana State.

He took unofficial visits to Oregon and LSU this spring and has plans to take a trip to Arizona State this offseason as well. Those three schools have been recruiting Justin the hardest and each have a different appeal to him.

“LSU is a down south [school],” Houston said. “The SEC, I feel like that’s real country football, how you play — run a lot and stuff like that. Oregon is just a dream school growing up, so I liked Oregon a lot. And Arizona State, it’s just a different type of school down there. I like the Pac-12 and I feel like Arizona State is up there.”


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