Adopted African winds his way to CFL
The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - It's weird where life can sometimes take us.
"It's a long story man," says Dounia Whitehouse, born in Chad, Africa, a black man adopted when he was a baby by white Canadian parents.
Whitehouse isn't sure how many brothers and sisters he has, and never played a single down of high school football, but is now only a few short steps from securing a job with the Edmonton Eskimos.
"I was always a big football fan but I never thought I was big enough to play football. On TV you see the guys with big muscles; I never thought I could play," the aggressive six-one, 205-pound cornerback hopeful said.
"I was playing basketball and hanging out."
Then again, who knew he would even leave Africa?
"I know what real poverty looks like; I saw it every day," he says.
"My parents moved to Chad with the Bahai Faith. (Both still live in Chad -- father Nigel works in the American embassy while mother Lynn is the official Canadian counsel.)
"They adopted a whole bunch of African kids. There are 16, maybe 18, of us. There are a lot of us. I'm about the middle one. No. 8. The oldest is 38; the youngest is 12," says Dounia, 25.
"I've got cousins that are white, cousins that are black, cousins that are mixed. Like I said, a long story man."
His brief football history requires some explanation as well. In 1997, when Whitehouse was 17, his parents sent him to Kelowna so he could graduate from a Canadian high school.
Playing football was the farthest thing from his mind.
"I had a friend, Terrance Huston, who played junior football with the Okanagan Sun," he said. (Huston was a tight end and running back who went on to play with the Oakland Raiders before injuring his neck and whom Whitehouse considers "the best football player I ever saw.")
"I'd go and watch him play," Whitehouse explains.
"The next thing you know the coaches are saying, 'Ever played?' I said no. That same year I was named rookie of the year."
On that same Canadian Junior Football League team was Huston's brother, Jermaine Haley, a former Toronto Argonaut and original Miami Dolphin draft pick who signed an offer sheet this year with the Washington Redskins.
In 1999, after two years with the Okanagan Sun, Whitehouse followed Haley to Butte College in California. There, Whitehouse got a full scholarship with Charleston Southern in South Carolina. There, playing cornerback as well as running back punts and kickoffs, Whitehouse got noticed by the Eskimos.
"We watched him play on video," Eskimo head coach Tom Higgins said.
"We were intrigued. He was Charleston Southern's best cover guy. They put him against the other team's best receivers and he covered them like a blanket.
"He's doing extremely well in making the adjustment from university level to the professional level."
Because Whitehouse is, a) very talented and, b) a Canadian, all of the Eskimos coaches are especially excited -- just as they are carefully watching two other Canadian cornerbacks, Emmerson Phillips and Fabian Burke.
"We want to keep at least two of them," said Higgins. This would allow the Eskimos to change the ratio of their likely all-import secondary and have Canadians in the backup roles.
"We've been impressed with him from the first day we saw him," concurs Eskimo defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall.
"The thing he has had to work on is learning how to play zone coverage and the reactions he has to make. In Charleston it was all man-to-man. It was like playing in the back yard. I got you and you got me.
"He's not here by accident; he can play. The exhibition games and next few practices are going to be real important for him because I do think he has a future in this league."
The Eskimos third-round pick in this year's CFL draft, Whitehouse says he is starting to feel a lot more comfortable.
"The first few days were real eye-openers. But my confidence is now where it is supposed to be.
"My game plan is to make the team, stay with the team and then go back to South Carolina and finish off my degree in the off-season next spring.
"After football I want to be a youth counsellor for kids," said Whitehouse, who has worked the last couple of summers with the Boys and Girls clubs.
"When I was in Africa my parents opened a school. We'd go to different villages and teach kids to read and write.
"That's what I like to do. Work with kids."
©Copyright 2003, Edmonton (Canada)
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