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University of Houston "underdog" player to watch in 2016: LB D'Juan Hines

How fired up is UH linebacker D'Juan Hines for the Cougars' week one clash with Oklahoma? “When we win that game, it’s going to be epic for (Houston),” Hines said. “It’s going to be a push for (Houston) to do big things this year and we’re very excited. That’s what we’re working for this whole summer.”

Linebacker D'Juan Hines makes a tackle in Houston's 42-7 win over Tulane.
Linebacker D'Juan Hines makes a tackle in Houston's 42-7 win over Tulane.
Derick E. Hingle/UH Athletics

Imagine being a kid again.

Try to remember back to when you where a child and the No. 1 item on your list of things to do on a given day was to play — play something, play anything. Play football, maybe.

Now think about your life today. Think about all your responsibilities. Think about the endless lists of mundane or complex chores you have to finish each day.

How great would it be to go back to being a kid again?

Houston linebacker D’Juan Hines knows a little bit about how that feels. After three position changes and a cluttered mind that made him hesitant on the field last season, he’s getting back to the basics. He’s rediscovering the fun he had playing football when he was young.

He’s "cutting it loose" this spring.

"I started out as a child just playing football, just playing around, so I thought, ‘let me just back to that and don’t just worry about playing the position I think I should be playing,’" he said. "I just wanted to get on the field and play with my brothers."

And he’s so fired up for week one against Oklahoma he can barely contain himself.

"When we win that game, it’s going to be epic for (Houston)," Hines said. "It’s going to be a push for (Houston) to do big things this year and we’re very excited. That’s what we’re working for this whole summer."

Hines is a player Cougars’ fans will want to keep their eyes on this fall.

He was a dual-threat quarterback in 2012 at Dekaney High School in Spring, Texas, about 30 minutes north of Houston.

He initially committed to the University of Colorado but when Mike MacIntyre came in from San Jose State to replace the short-lived Jon Embree, Hines’ situation changed. He is the only child of a single mother and he decided to remain closer to home. Houston, under then-coach Tony Levine, brought him on as an athlete.

Hines wanted to play quarterback but quickly found himself buried on the depth chart, so he moved to receiver. He spent the majority of 2013, his redshirt freshman year, at wideout before flipping to defense during the week of the Cougars’ bowl game.

As Houston prepared for what would become a nearly-epic fourth quarter 35-34 comeback victory over Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl, Hines strapped himself in at his new position: inside linebacker.

"I was just doing anything to get on the field at that point because I felt like I wasn’t really doing anything," Hines said. "so I went ahead with the move and now I’m here."

Now, at the conclusion of spring football and the beginning of a long summer of grueling workouts, he feels like he’s home at the position. His transition from offense to defense is complete. He accepts and embraces his new role, and is drawn to the similarities of playing quarterback.

"I feel like I’m out there in the middle of the defense … I’m just back in that leadership role," Hines said. "I like rallying around the guys."

"He’s becoming more physical, which I think was a little bit of a knock on him and that’s to be expected of him a little bit," defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. "His background has been all over the place but the one thing about him is that he is an extremely prideful guy. He tries to do everything we ask him to do and I just think he’s taken to the coaching."

Hines’ mindset was a crucial part of the transition when head coach Tom Herman and his staff took over the Houston program after the bowl win.

He compared the new coaches to a "brick wall" that players tried to run over in the early days of the new regime. When it became clear that the wall wouldn’t move, "you get with it and join the brick wall or you get left behind."

"I really bought in, since day one," Hines said. "I took it all on and asked them to coach me and that’s what they’ve been doing, and I’ve come a long way."

This summer, Hines is adding weight and muscle as he battles sophomore Emeke Egbule for the fourth linebacker spot, which the Cougars utilize in their nickel package.

He wakes up early, works out with projected starter Matt Adams and eats four meals per day. He’s up to 225 pounds and wants to be at 240 by the time fall camp starts, at which point he anticipates losing five to 10 pounds during the rigorous training sessions in the Texas heat.

"For me, that’s a good sign for us as a unit that people are competitive but they still want to try to work with each other and try to make each other better," Orlando said.

The unit was solid in Houston’s spring game April 16, despite the gaudy numbers of wide receiver Isaiah Johnson. Johnson racked up 15 catches, 292 yards and three touchdowns. But Hines was one of the few defensive players to take Johnson down during the game.

The spring game is history and a long, hot summer of hard work lies ahead before Houston’s biggest Week 1 matchup in recent memory. If the Cougars defeat the Sooners, the sky might very well be the limit for the University of Houston in 2016.

Hines’ hopes for the season range from personal to glorious:

"Help my brothers out on the field. Get to another New Years Six bowl game. And hopefully crack into that final four so we can win a national championship and bring it back to the H."