Signing day, 2000, brought with it more than the usual buzz to Boulder, Colorado. After the 1999 recruiting class imploded due to the uncertainty of a coaching change, head coach Gary Barnett could not afford to have a second consecutive mediocre recruiting crop.
Fortunately for the Buffs, Barnett delivered.
At the top of the class was all-everything running back Marcus Houston. The Denver (Thomas Jefferson) standout was near the top of nearly every recruiting gurus list of “can’t miss” prospects. In addition to being untouchable on the field (1,743 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior), Houston was a model citizen off the field. Houston had received numerous academic and community service honors, including the National High School Volunteer of the Year award. Houston had even found the time to create his own “Just Say Know” program, which encouraged middle school children to think about success and their future.
Houston’s signing with the Buffs was a major coup for Barnett. Losing the state’s top prospect to another school, on the heels of a 7-5 season which included an embarrassing 41-14 loss to in-state rival Colorado State, would have been an indication to some that the glory days of the recent past were over. Barnett’s sales pitch to Houston, though, was surprisingly straight forward. Barnett visited the Houston home on December 1, 1999, the first day direct contact was allowed by NCAA rules. Later, when coaches from high profile programs (like Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Mack Brown of Texas) visited Houston, Barnett feigned indifference. When asked during the recruiting period if he was worried about the still uncommitted Houston receiving the attention of other schools, Barnett’s response was “What I said was, ‘Where were Bobby and Mack on (December 1st)? They were visiting their most important recruits, weren’t they?’ They weren’t in Houston’s house. I was the only head coach in Marcus’ house.”
Still, the issue was still in doubt when Marcus Houston stepped to the microphone on January 28th. On a Denver radio show, accompanied by the fanfare usually reserved for celebrity press conferences, Houston declared his intention to be a Buff. An audible sigh of joy and relief was felt throughout the Denver metro area.
The 2000 class was not limited to Houston, though. Hometown All-American (Boulder Fairview) quarterback Craig Ochs also committed to the Buffs, as did junior college transfer quarterback Bobby Pesavento. Offensive lineman, both freshman and juco transfers, represented a significant portion of the class. Overall, the recruiting class was seen as being between 16th and 20th nationally by the recruiting intelligentsia.
Not the top ten accolades CU had received for its recruiting classes in the early 1990′s, but a significant step forward from the debacle of the previous year.