Demerio Houston and five of his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates have earned a spot on the Canadian Football League All-Star Team for 2023 and his numbers – a country-wide seven interceptions – are a shining example of his success.
What the numbers and the all-star team berth don’t fully represent are the peaks and valleys the Blue Bombers cornerback has slogged through over the last year to get here.
Houston, you may recall, rocketed out of the starting blocks a year ago with nine starts – and two interceptions – before an injury cost him the rest of his season, including the playoffs.
A year later he’s starting at corner for the Blue Bombers in the West Final as the CFL’s interception king.
“I had a chip on my shoulder because I wasn’t able to play,” said Houston after practice Wednesday. “I wasn’t able to help my team finish the run last year. So, this offseason I worked real hard to make sure my body was good so that I could last the whole season and be in this position where I’m able to start in the West Final and down the stretch and help my team win ball games.”
Houston not only led the CFL with the seven interceptions – one of them a critical Pick-6 in a win over Calgary in August – he finished second in the league with three fumble recoveries.
“I think he was disappointed with the way (2022) ended and that probably fuelled him a little bit to possibly train differently,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “But he came in and won a spot.”
The five other Blue Bombers CFL All-Stars include:
RB Brady Oliveira earned his first spot on the CFL All-Star team after leading the league in rushing with 1,534 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 85.2 yards per game and posting seven 100-yard contests. The West Division’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian Player, Oliveira also had 482 receiving yards on 38 receptions – both career highs – and his 2,016 yards from scrimmage (rushing and passing) led the CFL. Oliveira’s rushing total is the second most by a Canadian in league history, behind only the 1,813 Jon Cornish amassed in 2013 as a member of the Calgary Stampeders, and the sixth highest total in Blue Bombers history.
WR Dalton Schoen followed up his rookie campaign with a stellar 2023 season, finishing with 71 receptions for 1,222 yards and 10 touchdowns in earning his second straight appearance on the CFL All-Star Team. In just 34 games as a member of the Blue Bombers, last year’s CFL Most Outstanding Rookie Player has amassed 141 receptions for 2,663 yards and 26 touchdowns. His 10 touchdowns in 2023 led all receivers.
OL Jermarcus Hardrick, named the West Division Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman last week, anchors the right side of the offensive line. Winnipeg’s attack not only featured the top rusher in Oliveira, but the CFL’s passing touchdowns leader in Zach Collaros while leading the league in scoring. This is Hardrick’s second CFL All-Star Team recognition, having also been selected to the squad in 2021.
OL Pat Neufeld has been named to his third consecutive CFL All-Star Team at the guard spot, having also been honoured in 2021 and 2022. Now in his 12th CFL season, the last nine with the Blue Bombers, he has become a fixture at the right guard spot and like Hardrick is part of an offence that was prolific in 2023.
DE Willie Jefferson has now been named a CFL All Star five times, also including 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Recently named the Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player for a third time, Jefferson posted a team-leading 11 quarterback sacks, three forced fumbles (tied for second in the CFL), 13 pass knockdowns (most in the league), and 21 defensive tackles.