"You want humble beginnings? I was cut from my seventh-grade team because I was too small," Houston said in the book What It Means To Be A Buckeye. "I didn't like to be hit either. I remember coach Roger Price telling me that I wasn't good enough, so he cut me. I was humiliated."
Five years later, Houston's fortunes had changed. He had become an All-Ohio and high school All-America performer for the Tigers, following in the footsteps of three older brothers, including Lindell, who had been an All-America guard for the 1942 Ohio State national championship team.
Houston's other brothers, Jack and Walt, had gone to Purdue in the early 1950s, but when it came time for Jim to choose a school, he decided to commit to Woody Hayes. The old coach was never disappointed.
Born Nov. 3, 1937, Houston enjoyed a standout prep career as a two-way end for Massillon, helping the Tigers to a state championship his junior year. He joined the Buckeyes in 1956 as a 6-0, 170-pound freshman, but by the time he had finished his career in 1959 as a 6-2, 230-pounder, he had won back-to-back All-America honors and the Buckeyes had won the 1957 national championship.
His OSU career didn't start that well, however. During a practice session for a high school all-star game in Canton, Houston landed on his head. Later in the game, he was kneed in the head, causing a severe concussion. It left him unable to hit when he arrived at Ohio State. But it was a blessing in disguise.
"You couldn't play as a freshman back then anyway," Houston told The Canton Repository in 2001. "But I couldn't have contact for a year because of the head injuries. That fall, assistant coach Ernie Gottfried set up a half-line offense and ran plays at me all season ... no contact. I read everything. As a result, I was far ahead of everyone else when I started as a sophomore."
As a sophomore in '57, Houston was one of the members of the Buckeyes' powerful line that included All-America guard Aurelius Thomas. After an injury to starter Ross Bowermaster in the third game of the season, Houston became a two-way starter on a team that team had everything – an offense ranked 11th in the nation and a swarming defense that allowed an average of just 9.2 points per game.
After a stunning 18-14 loss in the season opener to Texas Christian, OSU rattled off nine consecutive wins, topping off the year with a 31-14 win over Michigan and a 10-7 victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Houston wound up averaging 44 minutes per game and played all 60 against the Ducks in Pasadena.
The following season, the Buckeyes hit a rough patch in midseason when they tied No. 8 Purdue and No. 13 Wisconsin and lost to No. 11 Northwestern in a three-week span. But they won their other six games, including a 20-14 decision over Michigan, and Houston won his first All-America honor.
The following season, Houston was named team co-captain and the Buckeyes were poised for a big year. But the team endured a rash of injuries and slipped to a 3-5-1 record, the first losing season ever under Hayes and the first in program history since 1947.
Nevertheless, Houston continued to star at the end position and earned his second straight All-America honor. He was also named team MVP for the second consecutive year.
After leaving Ohio State, Houston was a first-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills of the upstart American Football League. But he was also a first-round selection by the Cleveland Browns in the established NFL. The Bills offered more money, but the choice was easy. Houston embarked upon a 13-season career with the Browns that included Pro Bowl appearances in 1964, '65, '69 and '70 and an NFL championship in 1964.
The world title gave Houston a rare triple feat – championships at the high school, college and professional levels. He retired from the Browns following the 1972 season.
Following that retirement, Houston returned to northern Ohio and lives in Sagamore Hills. He had earned his insurance sales license while he was still at Ohio State and continues to work in the insurance business as head of Houston Financial Services.
Houston has five grown children and is past president of the Cleveland chapter of the NFL Alumni Association.
In 1979, he was elected to the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame, and was to the Buckeyes' All-Century Team in 2000 as a defensive end. In 2005, Houston was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
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