His grades were excellent as he headed to Colorado on a football scholarship in 2000. His time was seldom his. Houston's "Just Say Know" program is a motivational and learning tool for Denver area youth. To fund it, he cut yards and shoveled snow. Before high school graduation, he had visited Ghana where he was made an honorary tribal chief.
As a high school junior, he was a keynote speaker at an Amnesty International conference in Europe.
Great athlete, even better person. While his peers were chasing skirts, Houston got interested in helping his fellow man.
The kid played football for the moment but was wise far beyond his years. You'd better believe that Colorado made a big deal to Houston that it was taking on his causes, not just his talent. Ohio State didn't make that commitment and was quickly scratched off his recruiting list.
That was three years ago. This week, Houston sits in class at Colorado State, having recently transferred from the Colorado program that was going to make all his dreams come true. Three years ago, recruiting analysts predicted greatness. His talent and Colorado's tailback tradition assured him of a run at the Heisman at some point.
Or so it seemed. To say Houston was run off at Colorado might be too fine a point, but to say he is not there because he remains that world-class human being is right on.
If you believe published reports, Houston wasn't one of the guys at all times at CU. The fact that he doesn't drink apparently didn't sit well with some. When approached about taking out high school players on recruiting weekends, his no-drinking stance was one reason why Houston politely turned down the request.
Maybe that's also why he turned down another "request" to live in a dorm with teammates. Instead, Houston moved off campus and rented a house with his brother Lovell.
Not subversive stuff, actually pretty smart considering the recent tradition of recruiting parties at CU while he was there. An infamous party in December of 2001 led to misdemeanor charges against two players for providing alcohol to minors.
All of that, perhaps, would have been excused if Houston had produced on the field. Sadly, he didn't. Injuries through his three seasons limited his effectiveness. He was limited to 13 carries in 2002. By the regular-season finale against Nebraska, a freshman had passed him on the depth chart.
Houston will tell you he was ready. He still doesn't know why the coaching staff didn't play him after he recovered from a knee injury. Maybe it was the lingering reputation seemingly established by running backs coach Eric Bieniemy who caused a national stir in 2001 when he called Houston "Markeesha."
When the sports information director told a TV guy that there was a problem between Houston and the coaches, the SID was suspended. There was no such suspension for Bieniemy for calling out the kid in public.
Houston's absence in games was so expected that teammates reportedly made a statuette out of athletic tape for him gaining 1,000 yards ... in practice.
When Houston couldn't take it anymore, he remembered Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick. After the 2001 Colorado-Colorado State game, Lubick sought out Houston, asking briefly: "Are you doing all right?"
The question contained more compassion than Houston had received at times at Colorado. Colorado State is a little farther from Denver, and "Just Say Know" is a little harder to administrate from there, but things are working out.
Houston is a lesson to everyone who is scanning recruiting lists this week like they are some Rosetta Stone. Most years there is a roulette wheel's chance that the ratings and rankings aren't worth the paper they're written on.
Ohio State won a national championship with a quarterback, Craig Krenzel, who was not exactly highly recruited. When he left the team briefly in 2001 to attend a wedding, Ohio State center LeCharles Bentley famously said, "Who?"
Texas has won three recruiting "national championships" in recent years. But the school with the best recruiting classes in the country hasn't won so much as a conference title since 1996.
In 1998, Los Angeles-area running back Justin Fargas was the No. 1 player in the country and picked Michigan. A couple of injuries and a transfer to USC later, Fargas had a decent senior year -- 715 yards and a Rose Bowl victory.
Signing day is Feb. 5 with the usual number of holdouts ready to make or break a program by gracing a school with their signatures on a national letter of intent. Houston, Fargas, Krenzel, etc. should be cautionary tales.
The heights, weights, 40 times and bench presses just ain't that important, folks. It's what happens to these raw teenagers when they get into a program. Some become homesick. Some thrive. Some burn out. Missouri lost a recruit a few years ago when he quit to join a rock band.
Quarterback Craig Ochs grew up dreaming of playing at Colorado. He was injured in 2001 and his replacement, Bobby Pesavento, helped win the Big 12 title. In 2002, Ochs suffered a concussion and, fed up with his treatment at CU, finally transferred to Montana.
And some, after negotiating the land mines of practice, school, dating and young adulthood, excel on a football field.
Those are usually the only ones the fans care about. Given those parameters, Marcus Houston is a bust. But, of course, he really isn't. He still is a solid citizen; still, we assume, a talented player after all the injuries.
Still destined, in this humble opinion, to be president some day. That he might do it without that Heisman Trophy should have nothing to do with it.
Houston did everything right at Colorado except score enough touchdowns. Because he didn't, he is at Colorado State this week. Comfortable and still the same world-class human being.
The Marcus Houston File
Born: May 27, 1981
Parents: Patricia and Herman
Activities: "Just Say Know" learning program
Keynote speaker Amnesty International, 1998 Visited African nation of Ghana in 1999 as guest of Princess Asie Ocansey.
Named national top 10 youth volunteer, 2000
Career statistics (three seasons): 118 carries, 513 yards, 2 touchdowns