INTERVIEW: James Houston explains similarities, differences between Deion Sanders, Dan Campbell

Pride of Detroit

Detroit Lions sixth-round pick James Houston had one of the most interesting journeys to the NFL. Originally a three-star recruit who got some offers from big schools like Michigan, Miami, and the school he eventually chose in Florida, his career didn’t get the start he was hoping for. As a Gator, he played at linebacker but after three years he decided to transfer to HBCU school Jackson State.

There, under the tutelage of former NFL star Deion Sanders, his football career took a big turn. Sanders sat down with Houston and had a tough conversation about switching position from linebacker to edge rusher. And while Houston originally pushed back, he eventually agreed, and it resulted in an absolutely dominant season as a Jackson State Tiger: 70 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, and seven forced fumbles in just 13 games.

This week, we chatted with Houston and asked him some of your questions in Part Two of our “Ask a Lion” series this year.

Previously: Chase Lucas breaks down what he liked, disliked about ‘Hard Knocks’ portrayal

Which NFL quarterback do you want to sack the most?

“I guess, Tom Brady. He’s about to be done.”

Biggest non-football hobby?

“I like video games. I don’t really like to do one thing. I like to do a whole bunch of different things. Just kinda switch it up. But I like video games, fishing, watching movies, TV.”

Have you gone fishing with Frank Ragnow yet?

“Nah. I saw he’s a big outdoor guy. Yeah, I don’t know if I’m that advanced. [laughs] I kinda just go out the back in the lake and just throw it out on out.”

What’s your video game console? What’s your favorite game?

“PS5. Fifa is my game.”

You think you’re the best Fifa player here?

“I do. I know there are going to be 10 other guys coming out saying the same thing.”

Do you have a professional soccer team you follow?

“I cheer for Manchester City.”

What’s the most memorable play of your career so far?

“I guess my pick-six. It was the only pick of my college career and I scored, so yeah.”

We used to ask this question to defensive linemen and linebackers. What do you prefer more: a pick-six or a strip sack fumble recovery touchdown?

“I would say—it’s hard for a lineman to get a pick. That’s extraordinary. And it was in the SWAC championship.”

Is there something about Deion Sanders that we don’t see in front of the cameras?

“I mean, he does a lot of things in front of the camera, so you’re really going to see a lot of him. But just the guy that I know, I know that he’s a god-fearing man, a great leader. You’re going to come in and he’s going to have a standard of dominance and excellence. He’s going to hold you to that. He knows what it’s supposed to look like. He’s been there and done that. So he’s going to give back and give you the knowledge, but ultimately it’s up to you to follow it.”

What’s the best piece of advice he’s ever given you?

“When I was there, he didn’t want to give me too much. He just said, ‘Trust the process. Trust what we’re doing and just follow coaches. Listen to them. They have your best interest. Just go out and play hard every time you go out there. Stay with that same standard, that same level of dominance, and never deter, never go down and just keep getting better.;’”

How does Dan Campbell compare to Deion? Are they different in coaching styles?

“They are pretty different. They are pretty different. Coach Campbell, he’s a great motivator and so is Coach Prime. I just feel like they do it in different ways. Campbell, he may give you a funny story or something and relate it back. Coach Deion—he may bring up the bible or a bible verse or an incident or something that happened in the NFL. Something like that, and just relate it back. So they’re both kinda do the same thing, just in different ways.”

Who is the teammate you’re closest with?

“Probably Chase Lucas or Jameson Williams. Those are the two guys I came up with, so we’re just getting it together.”

What food was at your draft party?

“I had seafood and barbecue.”

Is that your favorite kind of food?

“My favorite is Jamaican food.”

Jerk chicken?

“Yeah, jerk chicken and oxtail. The whole nine.”

Favorite movie and movie genre?

“My favorite movie genre is going to be comedy. I love to laugh. My favorite movie, I’ma just go with what I already said in ‘Shrek.’”

Can you explain the passion in HBCU culture?

“A lot of people aren’t really—they don’t really know the HBCU and the whole fandom and pride that people have behind it. It’s been going on for about 100 years and our people are just really prideful. We gonna talk smack. We’re going to love our guys up to the end. HBCUs, at the end of the day, you an HBCU football player. So we all gotta stick together, but you know, when we’re against each other, we’re going at each other really hard. It’s a very loving community, but also we gonna, we gonna bicker. But at the end of the day, we’re going to come together as a family. That’s one word that I can use to describe HBCUs.”

What about the fan? I think I heard Jackson State was setting some crazy attendance records?

“Oh yeah, most definitely. Jackson State, for one, is definitely going to show out. I saw that last year. We packed up the Vets stadium. It holds about 60+, 60,000 plus.”

That’s an NFL crowd right there.

“Yeah, it’s different. Going into those games, man, it’s a whole different feeling from where I was at, at Florida. I done played in 90,000 plus, and that’s a different feeling, as well, but this is a whole different feeling just seeing all your people in the stands and cheering. It’s a sight you’ve got to experience.”

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