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Shaq Johnson will be the first to admit he is the opposite to many of his teammates and opponents, especially for his position. The athletic receiver isn’t a “rah rah” guy. You won’t see him dance much after routine catches to move the chains. There is very little trash talk for whichever defensive back lines up against him or allows him to bust a big play for 30-plus yards. And that’s just the way Johnson likes it.
“I’m not the guy to talk on the field, I just try to play the game. I love football and just try to stay in tune with everything,” said Johnson.
“If any other defenders start talking then I find it fun because competition brings out the best in all of us, right? You talking isn’t going to change my abilities on the field or your abilities to stop me.”
Johnson’s path to the pros is unique, even by Canadian standards. Part of that humble DNA also played into a real important family decision after his first year at McGill. Johnson decided to sit out one year and ultimately lose his roster spot in order to help his mother Karen who was raising three other children on her own.
“I stayed home for a year and actually played for the junior (Greater Toronto) Grizzlies,” explained Johnson.
“Family comes first. Football is not the be- all and end- all and once you understand that you have a lot of doors that open up. My mom had been on her own for a awhile so the least I could do was give back anywhere I can right?”
Karen will make the short drive to Hamilton to watch her boy on Saturday night. After nearly a full year on the practice squad- Shaq dressed for three regular season games and the playoff victory against Winnipeg last year- he is starting to show some of the spark that had Geroy Simon and the scouting staff excited to take a flyer on him in round four of last year’s draft.
“You have to give Geroy a lot of credit for that one,” said GM/head coach Wally Buono.
“Geroy had a lot of confidence in Shaq. Last year he felt that, with work, he would make progress, which he has. I think you saw every game he can make a big play for you. The more he gets to understand how the game is played, at what speed, and how to read coverages, I think you see the skill level there.”
Johnson made a huge 36-yard catch to extend the fourth quarter drive that ended with Travis Lulay’s winning score in Montreal last week.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to contribute to winning drives like that,” said Johnson.
“Being a young guy, they are obviously going to depend on you to make those plays while you have superstars being watched over the field like Manny, Burnham, Jeremiah or Nick Moore. It’s all about coming in, contributing and doing your part.”
His contributions to the offence are more impressive when you consider he missed the first week of training camp with a leg injury. It just goes to show you how much preparation and dedication to the craft can go a long way.
“Last year helped a whole lot, just getting used to the speed, the play book and little adjustments week to week. It just kept me on my toes and got me ready to be a pro. Being on that practice roster just gave me a lot of drive and positivity going forward. It was a great confidence booster.”
Johnson didn’t play competitive football until grade ten and suited up for Wilfred Laurier and the London (Jr.) Beefeaters following his exit from McGill.
It was a journey down south that made him realize he may just be able to play the game he loves for a living one day.
“In my senior year in high school I went down to a University of Pittsburgh camp and had great success. I tore up the combine, was MVP of the camp and was getting recruited by them after that. That’s when I knew I had a special talent,” recalled Johnson.
“I just needed to stay humble, stay focused and as long as I kept playing and doing the right things I would end up where I wanted to be.”
Along with taking down the Tiger-Cats in Steel Town on Saturday, Johnson’s goal is to help this very talented squad get to where he thinks it could be.
“The team is bigger, faster, better, stronger and smarter than last year,” proclaimed Johnson.
“It’s just great to see all the talent we have out here and how the guys came together with the two-game trip out east. It’s a really family oriented team. We know what we can be and where we can go.”
Don’t let the brash quotes fool you. He is still one of the more down to earth pros you will ever meet. His proud mother indeed raised him well.
It was pretty much status quo as the group returned to work for a non-padded session at their Surrey facility on Tuesday. They appeared to escape the the eight-day eastern journey relatively injury-free. Swayze Waters appears to be ready to go, but it’s a matter of how willing they are to make a change right away. At any rate, Ty Long has continued to improve.
Buono also addressed the importance of not taking the 0-2 Tiger-Cats for granted.
“I think it’s foolish to overlook anybody. Records are not indicative of the kind of football club you are,” said Buono.
“The thing we have to be aware of is the fact we are going into Hamilton’s home, I think it is their (home) opener, you know the club is going to feel that’s going to be a lively crowd and that’s a huge advantage for them. Collaros is a great quarterback. At the end of it he can do his part. They’ve got a good football team. They’ll figure it out.”
They will have two more full practices at home before getting back on the plane for Hamilton on Thursday afternoon and hold a final walk through at Tim Horton’s Field the following day.
The club also announced the addition of OL Felix Gacusana Jr. and DL Louie Richardson to the practice roster. A Burnaby native and graduate of St. Thomas More High School, Gacusana Jr. played four years at SFU with new Lions’ teammate Jordan Herdman. His accolades included a second-team All Great Northwest Athletic Conference team selection. Gacusana Jr. was selected 43rd overall by Calgary in this year’s CFL draft. Lions’s brass had been keeping a close eye on him since the March Western Regional Combine in Regina.
Richardson brings some experience to the table: the former Vancouver Trojan played six games with Hamilton last season, recording five special teams tackles, and also played parts of three seasons in Winnipeg from 2013-15. Richardson attended the University of Manitoba and entered the CFL as a free agent with Hamilton in 2012.