Houston, we have an answer

I'm sure for some Washington football fans, the thought makes them positively giddy. Out in the intermittant sunshine around Husky Stadium, you could see the future in action on Tuesday - Jake Locker, handing a football off to Michael Houston. For a group low on numbers, the running backs just got a little healthier for the future...just not for 2006.

But enough on this year. Michael Houston has big things planned for the year he gets out of NCAA transfer jail. Because the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder from Denver, Colo. is moving from the University of Texas to the University of Washington, he gets to spend a year working with the Huskies' scout team and envisioning himself as the Pac-10's next big power back.

He doesn't have to go far to make an apt comparison. "I've seen big backs flourish in the Pac-10...LenDale White, Corey Dillon...he's someone who has been to Washington and did well," Houston told Dawgman.com on Tuesday. "The type of one-back offense - the one-back set, power offense, big men...I think it's nothing but success. With the offensive coordinator (Tim Lappano) and the experience he's got, I don't think it'll be anything but good things happening. I'm excited to see what happens."

Comparisons to White appear to be inevitable. "He's definitely a horse," Houston said about the former USC star. "I got a little footwork to me. I'm not all just power, power...I can get out and go a little bit. To compare me to LenDale...that's fine with me."

Washington fans are excited to hear what Houston brings to the table; a big, powerful running back that has the ability to break tackles and move piles. The ability to make people miss in space. The ability to be an every-down back, the kind Washington hasn't seen since Rashaan Shehee.

Houston talked at length about his ultimate decision to take his game outside the Lone Star state. "At one time there were almost eight running backs," he said. "I was a big running back out of high school and being recruited, I didn't want to play fullback. When you get so many talents, my coach came to me and said that I was the most physical out of the group and I fit the prototype for a perfect fullback. I didn't want to play fullback if that was the reason why. If it was a necessity or had to happen...but not based on too much talent. I wanted to play running back and I wanted to run the ball. That's my position."

Even though he played against Baylor (three carries for 27 yards) and in another game as a fullback, Houston had a gut feeling his time in Austin was about done. "I definitely had the option to stay on the team," he said. "Coach (Brown) gave me the option. He called me after the Rose Bowl and told me to come back after break and play fullback, but I cared about the guys too much and respect the program too much. I knew I was leaving. I knew my heart was somewhere else, so I knew I wanted to hurry up and get the process started."

So what made Houston think about Washington when he initially decided he was going to leave Austin? "I was being recruited out of Notre Dame out of high school," Houston said. "My story is a little weird. I wasn't a hot prospect coming out of high school until my senior year, when I focused up. I was a little overweight. Notre Dame came at me, and when when I left Texas I contacted Coach Willingham, because it was a dream to play for Coach Willingham. The opportunity was just perfectly set up for me. After I left Texas, there were just a couple of schools I was interested in, and Coach Willingham was definitely the top choice to play for."

Cal and Colorado State were also in the mix. "It was kind of quick," Houston said of the decision-making process and his desire to be a Husky. "I got contacted by a lot of schools, but I narrowed it down to those schools. I still had to get film to them, to remind them of who I was. I had a couple of films around the house and did my own highlight tape. It helped that I was ranked (coming out of high school). It helped that Coach (Bob) Simmons remembered me from high school."

After leaving UT ("I had some bills that I owed, some school stuff and some loans I probably shouldn't have taken out, but I did"), Houston looked at his options. By the time he had settled on the idea of going to Washington and calling the Husky coaches, he was unable to make it into spring term. "The process was rough," he said of his school-only regiment. "It was a long summer. I had to take a couple of classes at a local community college (Aurora) and I had to earn a pretty good GPA. It was tough. I was used to doing the school thing but it was a little more pressure. But knowing that I was going to be here, the hard work paid off and it was worthwhile."

The real push took place in late June, when Houston and his father flew to Seattle for a visit of the school. "It was a beautiful visit," Houston said, smiling. "The campus was amazing. I've never seen a campus like this. Isaiah (Stanback), he was my escort. He's class A, top-class. I was blown away by the city of Seattle, the city was amazing to me. It's like an island, it's like Paradise. Getting to play in this type of scenery, this setting...it's just a blessing. To be out here in Seattle and the state, it's gorgeous."

It made an indelible impression on Michael's father, who had never flown or left the state of Colorado before. "He was in tears," Houston said. "It was his first college atmosphere."

With everything in place for Houston to make the switch from burnt orange to purple, all that had to happen was 'the process'. But for Houston, it was agony waiting for grades to show up, faxes to arrive and for 'the process' to do it's work.

"When you are trying to get grades cleared, and you're in the position that I was in...everything has to be air-tight," Houston said. "You can't have any violations or anything like that. When I was waiting on my grades, it was taking a while to process. And everything was so slow in the process, it seemed like. It was tough because my classes weren't ending when they (Washington) wanted the grades. So I had to ask my professors to do me a favor and kind of figure out what my grade was going to be and email 'em. We had to do things quicker, it was tough on me trying to wait. Everything was just kind of waiting...it was tough."

Then the call came, and all the waiting was over in an instant. "I cried," Houston said. "We were calling the (UW) academic advisors and the coaches every day, I know they were getting tired of me. But when he (Willingham) called up and told us, I just couldn't help it. I was so excited. The feeling was amazing, I couldn't describe it."

With bags packed, Houston arrived on Washington's campus Sunday night and by Monday afternoon was donning a No. 34 purple jersey. Will that be his number? To Houston, it hardly seems to matter that much. All he knows is that he's in Seattle and ready to take on the next chapter in his life with the same ferociousness he did would-be tacklers in the Big-12.

"It's exciting," he said. "When I was moved to Scout (team) at Texas, it gave me a chance to show how good I was against the first-team defense. And if I can do that for a whole year, it gives me a chance to get the speed of the game again, getting back in a rhythm and learning the offense. To practice for a year is no pressure. It's just strictly getting better. It's just a straight blessing to be able to do that for a year. It's going to be hard to watch, definitely. It's going to be hard to watch knowing you can't play, but it's definitely a great thing.

"It's a blessing to me now. I get to redshirt now. It was cool to have the game experience and I was able to travel for most of the year. It's frustrating as an athlete, because you know you can bring more to the table, but three carries (last season) for a running back isn't even a teaser. It's a warmup session. It was good to get the feeling."

Did the fact that Washington right now would only have two scholarship running backs with any college experience coming back for 2007? "You get excited, because it just increases your chances even more," Houston said. "But I didn't pick it because of that. Washington has a good tradition, and I want to bring it back with the rest of the fellas."

"I feel like a dawg. A dawg to me is fight, gritty. I like to be in this situation. It's coming from the bottom to the top. Guys are hungry. They are cast as out-dawgs. It's a time to rise, and if we can do that with Coach Willingham and the new era, it's going to be greater than ever."

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