Bombers' cornerback Houston tops CFL in defensive takeaways

The hands that have helped make Demerio Houston the CFL’s takeaway leader have been busy during the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ bye week.

The veteran cornerback has spent the time off in Charlotte, N.C., helping care for his expanding family.

Last month, Houston’s wife, Ashley, delivered twins (a boy and girl), giving the couple five children overall. They also have a two-year-old son together along with two older stepchildren (aged nine and 14).

“(Our hands) are definitely full,” Houston said with a chuckle during a telephone interview. “My kids are the reason why I go so hard to make the plays that I make.

“Without me making plays it’s hard for me to provide for them. That’s why I need to keep getting interceptions and creating turnovers.”

The five-foot-10, 173-pound Houston has certainly been doing that. The 26-year-old native of Shelby, N.C., leads the CFL in interceptions (five), fumble returns (three) and defensive takeaways (eight).

He has accounted for nearly half of the 18 turnovers that Winnipeg’s defence has forced (tied with Toronto for most in CFL). Houston has all but two of the Bombers interceptions and three of their five fumble returns this season.

On a Winnipeg defence chock full of established CFL veterans and all-stars, Houston has quietly carved out a niche. The former Southern University star has also registered 19 tackles in six regular-season appearances this year.

“I definitely feel I always have something to prove, that’s why I go hard every play,” Houston said. “I feel like I’ve been overlooked my whole life . . . I just look at it as if they’re sleeping on me, I’ll eventually wake them up with my play.”

But Houston draws solace knowing his play is both recognized and appreciated by Bombers players and coaches.

“At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters,” he said. “My coaches and teammates definitely see my passion for the game and the things I bring to the team.”

Houston earned a starting job last year before being injured. While he recovered fully, Houston couldn’t reclaim his No. 1 spot.

Houston started nine of the 11 games he appeared in last year, registering two interceptions and 27 tackles. But in 2023, Houston has taken advantage of the opportunity created by veteran cornerback Winston Rose starting the season on the injured list.

Rose tweeted Thursday he’s been medically cleared and should be back on the field soon. Winnipeg (5-2) returns to action Aug. 3 visiting B.C. (5-1).

The Lions defeated Winnipeg 30-6 at Winnipeg’s IG Field on June 30. Houston was on the injured list for that game.

Now in his third season with Winnipeg, Houston said his penchant for creating turnovers is a combination of having a nose for the football and being strategically placed within the Bombers’ defensive alignment. He also praised Deatrick Nichols, the halfback on Houston’s side.

“He makes the game easier with the way we play together,” Houston said. “We talk at the stadium, even outside of it, about plays we need to communicate on and things we need to look for in an upcoming game.

“And we communicate the whole game. We’ll talk three, four times before the snap and then in between plays.”

Playing on a unit that also features such stalwarts as defensive linemen Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat and middle linebacker Adam Bighill (three times CFL’s outstanding player) doesn’t hurt, either.

“That definitely makes the game go smoother and allows me to play fast and have a lot of fun,” Houston said. “You have Jackson and Willie putting pressure on the quarterback, Biggie also putting on pressure and that takes it off us defensive backs.

“We know they’re going to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and the ball will come out faster and we’re able to make plays on it as long as we’re on our receivers.”

Demerio Houston

Demerio Houston

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Houston does his part by watching hours of film, both at the facility and home, as part of his weekly preparation. And life in the CFL has taught him to have a short memory, either after registering a turnover or getting beat downfield.

“You’ve got to have that next play mentality,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re just aware and prepared for the next play and play 60 minutes.

“That’s what our coaches tell us and teach us: Just play the whole game and don’t get too high or too low.”

While Houston welcomes the time away from football, he’s looking forward to resuming the season. And with good reason, he had interceptions in each of the three games Winnipeg played before the bye week.

“I feel like I’m playing at a very high level and I just want to keep on that,” he said. “The bye came at a great time for us to get away and spend time with our families, go on vacation or do what we need to do away from football.

“So when we do get back we can return to our winning ways and doing what we need to do to win football games.”

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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