Houston played for the Ohio State Buckeyes as an end. He was a three-year starter under head coach Woody Hayes and twice the team MVP. He was elected the team captain as a senior.
Houston contributed on both offense and defense. Although known primarily for his excellent blocking and tackling, he helped the Buckeyes win a National Championship in 1957 (as recognized by the Coaches poll), and was also the leading receiver on the 1959 team, including a 100-yard game that year against Michigan State. He was an All-America selection in 1958 and 1959.
Houston was chosen in the first round of both the AFL draft by the Buffalo Bills and the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. Like his older brother Lin Houston, Jim chose the Browns. He originally played as a defensive end under head coach Paul Brown, but later moved to linebacker under Blanton Collier. At linebacker he became a four-time Pro Bowl selection, and helped the Browns win the 1964 NFL Championship. He died on September 11, 2018 at his home in Massillon of complications of dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Houston was one of the few players to achieve the "triple crown" of football - winning a State Championship in high school (Massillon), a National Championship in college (Ohio State), and an NFL Championship in the professional ranks (Cleveland Browns),. all within his home state.