Houston set to begin new CFL chapter with Calgary Stampeders

Veteran Demerio Houston joins the Calgary Stampeders open training camp next month. (CP)

Demerio Houston hopes quarterback Jake Maier isn’t holding a grudge when the Calgary Stampeders open training camp next month.

Houston intercepted Maier twice last season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, returning one 45 yards for his first CFL touchdown. The two are teammates now after Houston signed a two-year deal that includes $275,000 in hard money with Calgary in February.

Houston’s TD anchored Winnipeg’s 19-18 road win Aug. 18 that capped a sweep of the two-game season series. The pick-six highlighted a stellar campaign that saw Houston lead the CFL in interceptions (seven) and defensive takeaways (10).

“It was my first (pick-six) as a professional so it will always be with me,” Houston said. “Hopefully they (Maier, Stampeders) forgive me now that we’re on the same team.”

The five-foot-10, 173-pound Houston was a 2023 CFL all-star, adding 50 tackles in 15 regular-season contests. He helped Winnipeg make a fourth straight Grey Cup appearance although the Bombers lost 28-24 to the Montreal Alouettes in Hamilton.

Houston first signed with Winnipeg in 2020 but that season was cancelled due to the global pandemic. He started 2021 on the practice roster before cracking the active roster later in the year.

He was with Winnipeg for its last three championship appearances, including a 33-25 overtime victory over Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field in 2021. The following year, the Bombers dropped a heartbreaking 24-23 decision to Toronto in Regina.

“It (Montreal loss) is still with me and will probably stay with me the rest of my career,” Houston said. “But it’s something I’m going to use as fuel and grow from.

“I can’t change it. I would if I could but you just have to learn from it and get better.”

The Stampeders have made the CFL playoffs 18 straight seasons, the longest active streak and fourth-longest in league history. They’ve won eight Grey Cups, the last coming in 2018.

Houston certainly had a nose for football in 2023, attributing his success to thorough film study, off-field preparation, and remaining active during games.

“It starts with running to the ball,” he said. “Many of my plays come with the ball in the air but I also had three fumble recoveries last year, which is running to the football and when you do that, good things happen.

“Film study helps you know situations like when they need a big play and they’re going to go deep or when they’re going to try to hit a short route. It’s taking full advantage of opportunities when they come.”

Calgary’s defence already features top playmakers like defensive lineman Mike Rose (11 sacks) and linebackers Micah Awe (club-record 134 defensive tackles) and Canadian Cameron Judge (90 defensive tackles, team-high five interceptions). Still, much will be expected of Houston, something he’s good with.

“I feel like people will be asking if I can do it again and I feel like I can,” Houston said. “There’s definitely going to be pressure going to a new team and having to learn everybody and a new system. 

“I’m going to stick to what I’ve been doing my whole career and again bet on myself. Calgary is betting on me as well.”

Houston registered 84 tackles, three special-teams tackles and nine interceptions in 30 regular-season games with Winnipeg.

“Teams are always looking for dominant, playmaking cornerbacks and Demerio, coming off a ’23 all-star season, had many options to explore,” said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Houston’s Florida-based agent. “We all understand the business of professional football and Demerio went to a team that values him as a person and all-star calibre defender.”

Ideally, Houston would’ve liked to remain with Winnipeg but said if that wasn’t possible Calgary was his top destination. Houston won’t have to wait long to face his former team as the Stamps and Bombers not only meet in the pre-season (May 31 in Winnipeg) but twice early in the regular season (June 29 at McMahon Stadium, July 12 at Princess Auto Stadium).

“(Facing the Bombers) is going to be different,” Houston said. “My wife and I were talking about it and she asked if I thought (Winnipeg fans) would boo or cheer me?

“I’d hope they’d cheer but if they boo me, it comes with the territory. I’m excited about (return to Winnipeg) but I’ll be honest I go into every game with the same mindset and approach … play my best and get a win.”

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