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June 23, 2022

3 Storylines | HAM vs WPG

The scars – both physical and emotional – have all but healed now for Demerio Houston. And as a result, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back has the clarity and inner peace that goes along with that healing.

“There’s definitely that feeling now,” began Houston Thursday as the Blue Bombers wrapped up final preparations for Friday’s home date with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “Now I have my family here with me right now and I just can focus on playing football, perfecting my craft and being the best I can be.

“I’ve prepared for this moment. My opportunity is now, so I’ve got to take full advantage of it.”

Houston will replace veteran Winston Rose, who was moved to the one-game injured list, at cornerback in the Blue Bombers secondary against the Ticats. But this is a tale with many more layers than that.

Just about a year ago, Houston was in his first days as a rookie with the Blue Bombers when his daughter Hi’Lynn took a bullet in the thigh after a random shooting at his home in Charlotte, N.C., a story we detailed last August. In a bizarre twist, Hi’Lynn was shot while Houston was on the phone with his wife Ashley. And it was Ashley who convinced her husband to stay in Winnipeg as she held down the fort at home.

“I thought about going home to be there for them, but she knew this was my dream and that this had been a goal for my whole life,” Houston said. “She sees my potential; how hard I work and how much I want this. I thank her for keeping me on track and for motivating me. “She’s my backbone and always there with me to help me continue to drive and try to be great for our family.”

Now fully recovered, his 13 year-old daughter is here in Winnipeg along with Ashley and his two sons – Jace, who is eight, and Campbell, who is one.

“Everybody’s OK now. Matter of fact, they’re here until this weekend, so they’ll be able to witness my first start at home,” Houston said. “They’ve seen me play on TV, but to actually be here in the stands and watch me play in my first start is a blessing.”

That’s another component to this story, too, because in classic Manitoba fashion when news broke last summer of the Houston’s situation, the club received gift baskets to pass along to his family while locals also contributed to a GoFund Me page to help cover his medical expenses.

“I just thank everybody that prayed and helped me and my family out in a rough situation,” Houston said. “The community, the Blue Bombers and Winnipeg as a city definitely helped my family out.”

More on Friday’s home date – a rematch of the last two Grey Cups – in this week’s 3 Storylines…

1. START FAST/STAY ON THE FIELD

The Blue Bombers offence hasn’t exactly been the picture of efficiency through the first two acts of 2022, with four touchdowns, four field goals, one fumble, one interception and 13 punts through its 23 possessions – not including the victory formation kneel-down at the end of last Friday’s win.

Further to that, while it’s only a small sample size, Winnipeg is last in net offence with an average of 306.5 yards per game and have run just 100 plays from scrimmage – also last in the CFL.

“We need to start faster. That’s evident in the first two weeks,” said offensive coordinator Buck Pierce earlier this week. “We need to start faster and be ready to go from the first quarter.

“We’re always looking for consistency, especially early in the year, and you want that to come sooner rather than later. We’re at the point right now where we need to be better in certain phases in our game and certain period throughout the game. The big focus this week is to start faster and be more consistent.”

2. GET ‘GREEDY’ ON ‘D’

This was the term used by all-star defensive end Willie Jefferson when we spoke to him on Wednesday about the Blue Bombers defence still being pushed by Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall despite having surrendered just one touchdown in two games.

“… We want those guys on us,” said Jefferson of the defensive coaching staff. “We don’t want them to say they’re satisfied with us giving up a ton of yards because we’re 2-0. That’s being complacent. We want Coach Rich to be greedy, we want to be greedy. That has to be the mindset.”

The Blue Bombers do have some tightening up to do in their pass defence. Ottawa QB Jeremiah Masoli threw for 711 yards combined against the Winnipeg defence through the first two games and of his 41 completions, 27 of them were for 10 yards or more – including four of four yards or more.

“We look at things in three segments,” explained Hall. “First did we win the game? How many points did we give up, and how many takeaways did we have? I like the point situation; I don’t like the yardage situation because they had opportunities to score. The guys did a great job of keeping them out of the end zone, but we have given up far too many yards and far too many explosion plays this early in the season.”

3. BEWARE WOUNDED ANIMAL

The Ticats roll into town at 0-2, but likely in a snarly mood after surrendering a 24-point lead in what became an overtime loss at home last weekend. Coupled with the 2021 Grey Cup game – also play at Tim Hortons Field – that was the second straight home loss in extra time for the Ticats.

“They’ve played good football, they’ve just come out on the short end of the stick,” said Hall this week. “They’re a good football team and we can’t take them lightly. They’ve got some dynamic guys on the offensive side, and they have the capabilities of making big plays and that’s one of the things we’ve been giving up a lot.”