WATERVILLE — There’s a sentence in “The Sound and the Fury,” William Faulkner’s classic novel, that is incredibly long. Words build upon words, and Faulkner makes something so difficult look so easy, so fluid. Marcques Houston, a senior majoring in English and American Studies at Colby College, reads Faulkner and is amazed.

“Faulkner, the way he writes is incredible,” said Houston, who grew up in Monmouth.

Perhaps taking his cue from Faulkner and Toni Morrison, another of Houston’s favorite writers, Houston is doing his best to make the complex and difficult seem easy. Whether that happens to be anchoring Colby’s record-setting 4×400 relay team, organizing a social justice rally, or teaching a classroom full of refugee students, Houston makes life’s incredibly long sentence flow.

Colby’s outdoor track and field season begins next weekend at the Emory Classic in Atlanta. When asked what he expects from Houston this spring, Colby College track and field coach Dave Cusano answered with one word, and a laugh.

“Fireworks,” Cusano said, and he elaborated. “Most important is his leadership, his competitive spirit, and his willingness to be a team player.”

Houston is expected to once again anchor the relay teams for the Mules, including the 4×400 team that’s looking to defend its New England Small College Athletic Conference and New England championships. Individually, Houston is in the conversation for the NESCAC 200 title and a spot in the 200 field at the NCAA Division III championships in May. The 4×400 relay team of Houston, Sage Bailin, Brian Sommers and Pedro Caballero set a school record (3:14.63) and placed 13th at the NCAA championship. While Sommers and Caballero graduated, Houston and Bailin are back. Along with Roy Donnelly, Sommers and Landon Summers, Houston helped the 4×100 set a school record with a run of 41.81 seconds.

Houston placed second in the 200 at the conference meet last spring, running 22.05 seconds. Houston needs to crack the top-15 times in the event nationally to qualify for the NCAA championship. The more opportunities Houston has to run the 200, the better chance he has to qualify.

“Our relays are looking really good this year,” Houston, a Monmouth Academy graduate, said. “This year is a pretty fast year (in the 200). We’re trying to find more meets I can run.”

As a senior at Monmouth Academy, Houston was the 2014 Kennebec Journal Boys Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year. Houston overcame four surgeries to correct an osteochondral defect in his knees, which caused swelling in the bottom of his femurs, to win Class C state titles in the 200 and 400, as well as help the Mustangs’ 4×400 relay team win a state championship. Back then, Houston saw himself as more of a 400 runner. Now, the 200 is Houston’s favorite event.

“It just seems to be the event I do better in,” he said.

Indoors, Houston has the second-best 200 in Colby history, behind Sommers, the school record holder. Houston enters the outdoor season with the fifth-best 200 in school history, and Cusano sees him moving up that list.

“He really has a chance at the school record,” Cusano said, referring to Dom Kone’s outdoor mark of 21.70 seconds

Houston credits the coaching of Cusano, who arrived at Colby as Houston began his sophomore year, with his development in the 200. To Cusano, Houston’s emergence in the 200 comes from the combination of hard work and physical maturity. When he arrived at Colby, Houston was 6-foot-5, lanky, and fast. Now he’s tall, big, and faster.

“He has that 6-5 frame, and he’s added 40-pounds, and it’s all muscle,” Cusano said. “He went from being a teenager to being a young man.”

That physical maturity caught up with a social conscience Houston began developing in high school. In the fall of his senior year at Monmouth Academy, Houston had a letter to the editor published in the Kennebec Journal in which he wrote that when it comes to issues of race, the United States could learn from its past mistakes. Also at Monmouth Academy, Houston worked to create a food bank to help students from families struggling to put food on the table.

Last fall, Houston took part in his most high profile effort to date. Houston organized last October’s Maine March for Racial Justice with fellow Colby students Adrienne Carmack and Angie Peterson. Hundreds marched the two miles from Colby’s Mayflower Hill campus to downtown Waterville, and the event included workshops where people could discuss racism and nonviolent protests. Growing up black in an overwhelmingly white state brought the issue closer to Houston’s heart.

“It means a lot to me personally, first of all, because I’m from Maine and, as a man of color, I have experienced a lot of the things that people were marching against that day. And we live in a state that isn’t the most diverse, which makes it very easy to pretend that racial injustice doesn’t exist here. And in our current moment that is very divisive, and it was important for us to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves and let them know that we see them and that we stand in solidarity with them. And to see almost 500 people at the march that day was one of the proudest moments of my life because all of my work that I had done built up to that moment and it was incredibly successful,” Houston said.

Houston’s love for reading and writing was instilled by high school teachers, so he knew English would be something he studied in college. After graduation in May, Houston would like to leave Maine, just for a little while. With a minor in Education, Houston is applying for jobs teaching either high school English or American History. As a sophomore, Houston spent his January term as a student teacher in Portland. Many of his students were refugees.

“That’s where I really began to love teaching,” Houston said. “Getting to interact with those students and impact their lives was special.”

Making an impact, on the track, in the classroom, or in the community, isn’t easy. But there’s Houston, making it look simple.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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