The Colgate Scene
January 2001
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The amazing man in the middle
by John D. Hubbard
Alex Houston is ready.

     College football is behind him and he's not sure what's coming next, but he is eager. Can't wait. "Let's get it on."

     It's the way he plays football, too.

     "I've always played defense. Offense never really made sense to me. I love the fact I don't know the snap count. It means you're always on edge."

     When opponents hiked the ball last fall it set in motion all kinds of mayhem, and at the vortex was Alex Houston, an imposing force of nature who fought off double- and triple-team blocking in pursuit of the ball. At 6-foot-3, 253 pounds Houston was not the prototypical nose guard, but his speed and relentlessness made him alter offenses and left ball carriers vulnerable to unoccupied teammates.

     "You make plays when you can but you do your job, don't go outside the system. I take a lot of pride that Mark Herman led the league in tackles and Johnny Costantino was third. Nobody touches my linebackers."

Houston      Houston came to Colgate from a large suburban Philadelphia high school. He had visited West Virginia and Virginia Tech, but felt the fit, at least academically and athletically, was better here. He had his doubts about the social life, however.

     "I wasn't familiar with a rural campus and homogeneous student body." He was behind in his writing skills and study habits. He was also not playing. "It was a new thing for me to sit the bench."

     Houston admits he had a chip on his shoulder, but his better angels prevailed. "What are you gonna do, be mad all the time? Besides, I like to make jokes. That softened the situation." And while on the sidelines he made up his mind to do everything in his power to play. When the coaches asked him to move from linebacker to the defensive line, he did.

     While adjusting to a new position, Houston "lived in the weight room" and worked on techniques, learning to use his quickness along with his arms and hands.

     "I'm not typical, not 290. I don't pick people up and move them but I will hit them in the mouth. My whole mentality was to get on the field." He admits to taking a beating in the course of a game, but a radiant smile emerges. "I like action. I like getting after it."

     Call Alex Houston a rowdy football player and he will thank you, genuinely complimented. It is, though, only part of the measure of the man. He is, off the field, a student (majoring in philosophy and religion) of infectious good cheer and a musician who has been able to express his faith, meet different people and travel where he might not otherwise have gone through song.

     Houston attributes his outgoing nature and love of music to his parents. "My Dad's from Mississippi and my Mom's from Boston, and they are both friendly people."

     Raised with a brother and two sisters in his father's church, Houston grew up singing. Joining the Sojourners here, the gospel group considered University Church's `house band' was a natural. Auditioning for the Thirteen was another matter. Houston didn't know the music, in fact had never even heard any of the songs in the group's repertoire. By dint of voice and personality, he was accepted and now solos on a host of songs -- Moondance, Alison, Good Ole A Cappella and Dancing on the Ceiling -- he once had "no clue about."

     Houston also plays the cello, at his mother's insistence. He looks at his hands that are still scarred from the season and says, "I'm probably a little rusty now."

     The physical wounds heal quicker than the psychic pains.

     "My whole focus in sports is to win and 7-4 eats at me every day. I think of all our games and the plays that killed us." And he watches film to see what happened. The Lehigh game looms, and a just-missed sack.

     "It wasn't coaching, wasn't other players. It was me. I didn't make the play.

     "Woulda, coulda, shoulda. You win, you lose, you deal with it. The thing is, I love football. I love everything about it. There's nowhere to hide. I love the hard work. I love the physical nature. I love my teammates, love the fact you can let yourself go. I played every snap as hard as I possibly could."

     Defensive line coach James Cregg writes of Houston, "Alex is a tremendous leader on and off the field. The passion that he demonstrated to the team promoted the intensity needed daily."

     The future is uncertain. Houston is coy about football and talks instead about teaching, a graduate degree and motivational speaking. No matter where he goes, Houston is going at it head-on, though.

     "You can't tippy-toe."

     The past is easier to figure out.

     "I can't believe I'm not a college football player anymore," says Houston, but he is smiling. "Colgate has been a ride. I have friends I really believe I'll have for the rest of my life. I've won championships and lost big games. I've seen a lot of snow, learned a lot, had amazing teachers and had a better time socially than I thought I would."

     With it all, Alex Houston gave more than he got.

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