Southern University defensive back Demerio Houston (14) deflects this pass intended for Prairie View A&M wide receiver Joshua Simmons (3) during first half of their game on Saturday, Nov. 4 , 2017 at A.W. Mumford Stadium.

Southern expected a lot out of Demerio Houston this season, and a few weeks ago against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he truly realized his potential.

Houston has played plenty of football in his three years on the Bluff, starting at cornerback in portions of his freshman and sophomore seasons. He got off to a slow start as a junior, but has come on strong in recent weeks, starting with the Pine Bluff performance.

“He made some big plays in that Pine Bluff game and that was the one that got his confidence going and you could see what he’s capable of,” said Southern defensive backs coach Steve Adams.

In the fourth quarter of that game, with Southern trying to hold on to a rapidly evaporating lead, Houston made two plays that may have saved an eventual 47-40 win for his team.

The first came on a fourth and short, when Houston burst into the backfield and showed off his physicality by dropping the Pine Bluff ball carrier for a loss. That particular play was something he has been trying to add to his game.

“Last year, I would just run around the blocks,” Houston said. “This year, I’m coming down hill … making a lot of tackles.”

Texas Southern's punt team kept its eyes on Danny Johnson, and Demerio Houston took advantage

A few drives later, he did the sort of thing he was recruited for. His man got a step behind him on a deep route, but Houston showed excellent closing speed and athleticism, leaping over the top of the Pine Bluff receiver to deflect a pass from quarterback Brandon Duncan.

The ball fluttered into the air before safety Montavious Gaines intercepted it with 2:28 to go in the game.

The two defensive plays were definitive drive-enders in a game Southern won by a touchdown. They were also a sign that Houston had established himself as Southern’s top playmaker in the secondary not named Danny Johnson — which is an important position.

With Johnson routinely shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver — and teams routinely deciding not to throw in his direction — the starting cornerback spot opposite Johnson plays a big role in Southern’s defense.

“I think that cornerbacks opposite (Johnson) should get a lot more work and have gotten a lot more work,” said Southern coach Dawson Odums. “Houston has stepped up and accepted the challenge.”

Since taking over the starting cornerback job before the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game, Houston has been one of Southern’s most productive pass defenders, breaking up eight passes.

He had to work his way to this point. Though he was one of the most experienced defensive backs on Southern’s 2017 roster, he entered preseason camp running with the third team defense because he missed summer drills in order to return to his native North Carolina.

“It had been since the Bayou Classic that he played a snap of football,” Adams said. “He had to get back up to speed. He was down on the third string.

“He’s worked his way back up and now he’s starting to play with some confidence.”

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Bus trips

Both the Southern University Quarterback Club and the Blue and Gold Club are sponsoring bus trips to New Orleans for next week’s Bayou Classic game between Southern and Grambling.

The Quarterback Club trip costs $50 (not including the game ticket), will depart from the F.G. Clark Activity Center at 8 a.m. and will return after the game. For more information contatct Reginald Jarvis at 225-939-5906, or Lillian Jones at 225-247-1437.

The Blue and Gold club is selling its seats for $45 (not including the game ticket). For more information, contact Criag Pierre at 225-324-7234.

Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.