When the Urban Youth Academy starts printing up covers for its next brochure, it had better put Marques Williams on the cover. Because if ever there was going to be a poster child for what the Academy hopes to accomplish, it's Williams.

The fleet-footed outfielder was the last of five Academy players drafted in last week's First-Year Player Draft, selected by the Astros in the 43rd round. Ryan Dent from Woodrow Wilson High was picked by the Red Sox in the compensation round, and Reggie Williams from Bellflower High was taken by the Twins in the fourth round. Marcus Crockett (ninth round) and Ray White (27th round) from Compton Community College were both selected by the Marlins.

But none of the group has a story more compelling than that of Marques Williams. When the Astros called his name, it completed a near-miracle year for the 21-year-old, who at this time last season was just a student at Cal State-Fullerton.

"I really couldn't have imagined all this," Williams said. "This started off as kind of a dream. It feels real good, though. If you look back on everything, it's pretty deep. There are millions of players who don't get drafted. It took a whole lot of help and determination from the people at the Academy."

Williams wasn't playing any serious baseball at this time a year ago, he was not thinking about the Houston Astros and certainly had no inkling that he'd hear his name called out on Draft day. Rather, he was finishing up his junior season at Fullerton, preparing for a senior year in which he would complete his studies for a business degree.

He was a good baseball player at Culver City High School and had hoped to play baseball in college as a walk-on. But once he arrived at Fullerton, he was informed that walking onto the baseball team at one of the country's collegiate powerhouses was not an option. He even ran track as a freshman at Fullerton in hopes of getting the coach of that sport to lay some groundwork with baseball coach George Horton, but it didn't happen.

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"The rumor was that there was no way to get on the team without getting recruited, so I kind of gave up," Williams said. "So I played intramural football at Fullerton. I was playing sandlot ball and in a Sunday league, too. The guy who was running the Sunday league team told me about the facility in Compton. My dad [Vincent] told me to go check out Compton, too."

So Williams went to the Urban Academy at Compton Community College last summer for a look around and began playing ball. That's where he met Darrell Miller, the program's director. He began playing games on weekends there, and it became evident that he had the talent to perform at a higher level. Miller told him he might want to think about transferring to CCC for his senior year.

Though Williams went back to CSF for the fall semester, he transferred to Compton this spring and, well, things began to happen.

"The kid had no opportunity to play at CSF," Miller said. "So he left there as a student. We worked hard with him on everything. He's a kid that epitomizes why we're here. We get those kids who had the desire but were never able to fulfill their dreams because they didn't have the opportunity. Good grief. The other guys [who got drafted] might have gone on to play if we weren't there, but I don't think that would have been him."

Williams had a strong season for Compton and performed well on the scout days, when Miller brought in scores of professional scouts and front-office types to watch the players work out. He made a big enough impression to get selected by Houston with its next-to-last pick.

 URBAN YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYERS DRAFTED IN 2007
PLAYER TEAM ROUND SCHOOL
Ryan Dent Red Sox Compensation Woodrow Wilson HS
Reggie Williams Twins Fourth Bellflower HS
Marcus Crockett Marlins Ninth Compton CC
Ray White Marlins 27th Compton CC
Marques Williams Astros 43rd Compton CC

"When I came here, I was thinking that I just didn't want to come here for fun," Williams said. "If I come here, I want to play hard, and it feels good because I always had a goal set of playing ball. When I came here, I knew I had a long way to go. But I started getting better and this is just a real big accomplishment. Words can't even explain it."

Williams still has a season of eligibility left at Compton. He's not sure whether he'll sign with Houston by the Aug. 15 deadline or return for another year of college ball. He's set to meet with Houston assistant general manager Enos Cabell next week to discuss his future.

"I don't know much about Houston, but I know there are a lot of opportunities to grow in their system," Williams said. "And they need players with speed, good outfielders. Every club needs that."

And Williams certainly seems to be a classy kid. He says he doesn't feel the need to go tell Horton and the folks at CSF that he was drafted.

"I don't blame Fullerton for not giving me a shot," he said. "There was a time I went to talk to them right before I went to Compton. I told him I was pretty good, and he asked for references. It was kind of late, and he didn't have a choice but to tell me no in a nice way. But he wished me the best of luck.

"I wouldn't get any satisfaction by throwing it in their face. I'm just satisfied that I was that good and that I wasn't just talking smoke. I'm just grateful for Darrell and everybody at the academy. Darrell is at the top of that list. I went through a lot of training with all of them and I'm very grateful to every one of them."