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February 14, 2024

Houston’s Solving Problems

General manager and head coach Dave Dickenson wasted no time announcing the Stampeders’ quadruplet of signings Free Agency Morning on Tuesday, beating every team across the league that would be sharing transaction news in the process.

As soon as the window opened, the Red and White reported the newcomers that would be joining the stables for the 2024 campaign.

First came the two-year signing of former Winnipeg Blue Bomber (DB) Demerio Houston, before making public the signings of former Hamilton Tiger-Cat (QB) Matt Shiltz, former Toronto Argonaut (OL) Trevon Tate, and finally former Saskatchewan Roughrider (LB) Micah Teitz.

All four players bring with them a level of intrigue in terms of how they’ll assert their talents on this team, but the acquisition of Houston certainly satisfies a Calgary faithful appetite that is used to the Stamps’ relative quietness over the course of CFL free agency past.

And the excitement from fan to player goes both ways, as the 2021 Grey Cup champion expresses his desire to come to YYC, a city he’s always had a liking for.

“The conversations I had with Coach Dickenson, I felt like I was really wanted and felt really admired by my performance and my game,” said Houston.

“I saw a lot of interest, and I love the city. I’ve always told myself if I was ever to leave Winnipeg, Calgary would definitely be a place I would love to play in, and it’s happening now.”

The CFL all-star led the league in interceptions last season and is excited to bring his talents westward to McMahon Stadium for the next two years.

“I look at myself as a ball hawk,” said Houston. “My mentality is, whenever the ball is in the air, it’s mine.”

“Guys look at ball radiuses like 50/50, but I look at it a little more that I need to win those 50/50 balls. I look at myself as an athlete. When I was younger, I played on the offensive side of the ball, and I played with the running backs, so I’ve always had a knack for the ball, so I bring my offense abilities to the defensive side.

“My plan is to come in and repeat what I did last year and help the team create more turnovers.”

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In Tuesday’s media availability, Dickenson expressed wanting to create more turnovers and record more interceptions this season, something the secondary lacked in last year, and defensive backs coach Dwayne Cameron agrees Houston will be a considerable addition to his DB room.

“He’ a guy that led the league in interceptions last year, and he also had a number of turnovers off of fumble recoveries,” explained Cameron. “He’s a guy that plays with a lot of confidence and you can see that on film, you can see it in person on the sideline when you’re opposing him.

“We’re certainly glad to have him in our room wearing the Red and White, but I want that confidence to carryover to this organization and see him play with the same level of confidence and aggressiveness that he did in the past previous couple seasons.

“We’re excited to have him,” he continued. “You can never have enough talent in the backend, so anytime you can add a player that has the type of impact on the game that Demerio has had, it’s certainly a bonus for your organization.”

Apart from the valuable acquisition of Houston, Calgary made good on re-signing a plethora of defensive backs before they could hit the FA market. Branden Dozier, Brad Muhammad, Nick Statz, Malcolm Thompson, Titus Wall, and Kobe Williams are all remaining in Red and White for 2024, joining veterans Jonathan Moxey and Tre Roberson who were already locked in for this campaign.

For Cameron, keeping the group together was pivotal in the secondary’s success.

“I think if we’ve learned anything in the past couple years, it’s that you can never have enough continuity,” he explained.

“We’ve suffered significant injuries in the positional group both in 2022 and 2023. So, being able to return as many guys as you can that have the familiarity, not just of the system, but playing next to each other and the communication styles with one another is important.

“You don’t want to have to start over all over again with a brand-new group, so having all of those guys excited to return is a good thing for us.”

With adversity, comes resilience.

And there is no question Calgary’s pass defenders have been forced to become a resilient group.

“It certainly makes them more versatile,” said Cameron. “Whether it’s having to play both corners or playing a combination of corner one game and half the next, or SAM one game then half the next.

“It’s been very much a next-man-up mentality, but I always felt that the group rallies together to take care of each other and protect each other in terms of knowing that they’re doing all the things necessary with communication and competing to give us the best chance to win.

“There’s no doubt that it is a challenge, you always have some guys that are better at certain positions than others, but everyone has always openly accepted the challenge of having to play one or two spots consistently.”