Demariyon Houston calls it “doing the dash.” Those moments when he flashes track speed on a football field.
The wide receiver recalled two times he did it in his four-year varsity career at Oklahoma City’s Millwood High. Once as a sophomore when he caught a ball underneath and turned upfield with space. Then as a senior, when he dodged one defender and stiff-armed another on a screen play — somebody missed a block — before flying down the sideline.
The wheels of the incoming Husker aren’t just anecdotal.
He ran a verified 10.71 in the 100 meters as an underclassman. This month, he clocked a 10.72 to win a state track gold medal and added a 200-meter title in 21.67. Both were top-four all-class times this year.
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“Demariyon is a kid that can really run,” coach Scott Frost said when Houston signed in February. “Our offense, as long as I’ve been in it, has been really successful and dangerous when we have a bunch of people that are weapons and can do a lot with the ball in their hands.”
Houston is rated a four-star prospect by 247Sports and ESPN. Nebraska thought enough of him to stay in touch a couple of times a week even as he was committed to Texas for five months until December. As the Longhorns tapered off communications — UT never told him it wanted him to decommit but stopped returning calls and texts, Houston said — NU assistant Ryan Held kept reminding him how much the Huskers could use him in their offense.
“He was telling me what they’ve got planned,” Houston said. “And he knows I would fit perfectly in it.”
The 6-foot, 165-pound Houston still hasn’t seen Memorial Stadium on a game day, but he got a taste during the spring scrimmage. He knows the opportunity awaiting in a room of wideouts that includes JD Spielman, Cal transfer Kanawai Noa and a variety of young or inexperienced players. He’ll have a chance in the slot, outside and returning kicks. He plans to arrive on campus June 1.
It remains unclear which of Houston’s nicknames will stick in Lincoln. His high school teammates called him “Hollywood” for his rotation of new gloves, clean cleats and open disdain for being tackled. To his family he was “Peanut,” a moniker that lingered from childhood when his aunt observed his head was larger than his body.
He didn’t have an interest in sports until seventh grade. During a visit to his younger cousin’s football practice one day, he realized he could run faster than anyone on the team. Bet I can beat all of them in a race, he told the coach.
“He let me try, and I did,” Houston said. “Coach put me at offensive tackle at first. He put me at tackle to toughen me up because I’d never played football before.”
It’s funny how reputations work, Houston said, because he still thinks his hands will be his biggest asset at the college level. He dropped maybe six passes in four seasons. His coach says he has “life insurance hands” — you can always count on them — no matter the degree of difficulty on the grab.
“He’ll make a one-handed catch and the only reason I don’t go crazy is because I see him practice it in practice,” Millwood coach Darwin Franklin said. “He’s not going out trying to make a play in a game situation where it’s a big possession and he’s trying to do something acrobatic.
“He’s done that stuff in practice. It’s stuff he’s done in practice and we know he can do. But he has a desire to work and a desire to get better.”
Despite the nickname, Franklin said Houston is low-key for a playmaker of his caliber. He spent extra time refining his route running before a senior season in which he made 35 catches for 772 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He’s also grounded.
His mother, Charmonique Thompson, had him when she was a teenager and had to drop out of high school. Houston has seen her sacrifice, and now she works for the Department of Agriculture and does some bartending. He will be the first in his immediate family to go to college, but not until after he gives his speech as senior class president later this month.
Making his mom proud and doing something she never could is just as inspiring as bringing his football journey north. That first catch-and-run at Memorial Stadium has already been dedicated.
Said Houston: “Everything’s perfectly good now because she made a way.”