Southern senior cornerback Demerio Houston is walking a fine line, like tip-toeing down the sideline on his way to the end zone with an interception return for a touchdown, trying to stay in bounds.
The Bayou Classic awaits at the end of the week with the added reward of a SWAC West Division championship for the Southern-Grambling winner. The open week gives the buzz a running start at school and all through Jaguar Nation.
And Houston feels a twinge inside. He’s set to start his fourth Classic in search of his first victory and trying to keep a lid on his emotions.
“I’ve come up short every year, but this year I want a different outcome,” he said. “It burns inside of me, gives me motivation to finish this year and come out victorious.
“A lot of people have come up to me in the store or walking to class to say, ‘Good luck on the game. We’re really rooting for y’all to win, we want y’all to win.’ It feels good, but I have to stay focused on Grambling and going 1-0 this week.”
Houston, like other Jaguars players and many Grambling Tigers, feels the pull of the week, the celebration, the parties. He admits that just once he’d like to watch the Battle of the Bands. But this year’s Classic has too much at stake.
The two teams hook up in their annual tussle in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 4 p.m. Saturday on NBC. The winner moves on to play for the SWAC title against Alcorn State the following week.
Houston said he knew nothing of the Bayou Classic until he arrived from Shelby, North Carolina, where his father and Southern coach Dawson Odums were football teammates at Crest High School. Other Jaguars have been indoctrinated since birth and understand at times it’s a family feud.
Sophomore wide receiver Kendall Catalon’s father, Sherman, pitched for the Grambling baseball team and explained what the game meant to his son, who caught a touchdown pass in his first appearance last year.
“It’s amazing, you can’t explain it,” Catalon said. “Dad told me about going to the games and how it’s more than just a game. It’s like a cultural experience. It has the feel of a win or go home playoff game.
“It’s tradition, family coming together. A lot of people have family on the both sides. Dad let all that go. He’s Southern now, Grambling is in the past.”
With Southern riding a four-game winning streak, the hope is the open week doesn’t cool them off. The Jaguars are averaging 39 points per game during that stretch and gave up only two touchdowns in the first three games. Arkansas-Pine Bluff scored some garbage time points after Southern led 42-9 in a 56-24 victory the last time out.
Southern (6-3, 5-1 in SWAC) has been getting good showings from special teams also. Grambling (6-4, 4-2) has won three straight and both teams are unbeaten since losses to Alcorn State.
But what has happened past Bayou Classics is a big factor. The Jaguars are aiming to meet the challenge in a business-like manner.
“The challenge is just doing our job each play, don’t try to shift the momentum of the game on every play,” junior center Jaylon Brinson said. “It will be a hard-fought game. We need to stay disciplined, and that means not letting your emotions get involved with how you play.
“Three straight losses to them and winner take all? We’re excited but focused. We have a mission we want to accomplish.”