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Defensive back Demerio Houston prepared to launch with Calgary Stampeders

Calgary Stampeders head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson wants more interceptions out of his team this CFL season.

Demerio Houston intends to oblige him.

The all-star cornerback was Calgary’s headlining off season acquisition when the 27-year-old from Shelby, N.C., signed a two-year contract.

Houston led the league with seven interceptions for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2023, including two against his current team.

“My mentality of see-ball, get-ball, whenever the ball is in the air, I have to have the mindset that it’s mine,” Houston said during Stampeders’ training camp. “I have to bring that into this year and repeat it and more.”

The Stampeders play the first of two pre-season games Saturday when the B.C. Lions visit McMahon Stadium. Houston won’t wait long to see his former teammates as Winnipeg hosts the Stamps in a pre-season contest May 31.

Calgary’s 17 picks ranked fifth in the CFL last season, ahead of B.C. and Saskatchewan (both 15) as well as Edmonton and Winnipeg (13 each). Houston also led the league in total defensive takeaways with 10 (seven picks, three fumble recoveries).

“It’s got to be the whole group,” Dickenson said.

“Last year … it’s not like any defensive back is never going to get beat. It’s going to happen. But when you get your opportunities and you get your hands on the ball, we need interceptions.”

“I like knockdowns as well, but I want interceptions.”

A football player wearing black training uniform and a red helmet is pictured.
Calgary Stampeders defensive back Demerio Houston watches the action during opening day of training camp. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Dickenson could get the route disruption he seeks with Houston and Tre Roberson, who had a career-high seven picks for Calgary in 2019, minding the backfield corners.

“I do think either guy can play field and boundary,” the coach and GM said. “(Demerio) is a smart player. With all the stuff we’re doing, it’s just different from Winnipeg. I think he picks it up quite fast.

“He’s a competitor, a ball hawk and those are the reasons we got him signed.”

Houston’s pivotal interception for a touchdown in Winnipeg’s 19-18 win over the host Stampeders on Aug. 18 has come up in Calgary’s locker room.

His 45-yard return on the final play of the third quarter for his first career pick six put the Bombers ahead 15-12.

“Guys have talked about the routes and they’re like ‘Houston made that play last year against us,”‘ Houston said. “I had to tell guys ‘yeah, it happened. We’re on the same team now. We’re on the same side.”‘

Houston said after signing with the Stampeders, quarterback Jake Maier messaged him to say “you’re welcome for the two interceptions.”

“He definitely got me back a couple days ago in practice,” Houston said. “He got me on a deep ball. I definitely like to compete and help make him better. He helps make me better.”

The Southern University alum was a practice-roster player in Winnipeg’s Grey Cup win in 2021 when the rookie appeared in four games that season.

A football player is pictured with his hands extended out.
Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Demerio Houston (35) celebrates knocking down the pass intended for Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Terry Godwin (17) during second half CFL action in Winnipeg. Houston will suit up for the Calgary Stampeders after signing this year with the team during the off season. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

He was on the one-game injured list for the 2022 Grey Cup. The Bombers lost 24-23 to the Toronto Argonauts in Regina.

Houston had three defensive tackles as a starter in the 2023 Grey Cup in Hamilton, where the Montreal Alouettes prevailed 28-24.

In addition to seven picks, the five-foot-10, 173-pound defensive back recovered three fumbles, compiled 50 tackles and had four knockdowns in 15 regular-season games en route to CFL all-star recognition.

“I always told myself that if I ever left Winnipeg, that Calgary would be a place that I wanted to go,” Houston said. “I feel like they’re similar to Winnipeg, and have winning ways.

“The season didn’t go as planned last year, but I felt like that was injuries. But Calgary is always in the running and at the top of the food chain.”

Defensive backs coach Dwayne Cameron says Houston’s biggest adjustment as a Stampeder will be getting accustomed to who plays beside him.

“So far here in camp, he’s kind of building a rapport with Kobe Williams, our boundary halfback, and they’re building a strong solid line of communication,” Cameron said.

Houston’s vision and anticipation make him a quarterback’s nightmare, Cameron added.

“I wouldn’t equate Demerio as your quintessential lockdown the opponent’s No. 1 receiver from a standpoint I just don’t think he’s ever been used in that role,” Cameron said. “He reads the play that’s kind of sorting itself out in front of him and he’s an opportunist. He’s going to take his shots at certain moments.

“He’s had some success against us in the past playing that way and against other teams as well.”

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