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December 19, 2019

Shaq Is Back With An Eye On Unfinished Business

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers play the BC Lions in their CFL game June 15, 2019 at BC Place in Vancouver, BC. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions)

Shaq Johnson was a good boy in 2019 and it resulted in an early visit from the North Pole. In this case, it was general manager Ed Hervey playing the role of Santa and it was a one-year contract extension sitting under the speedy receiver’s tree.

Coming off a year where he established new career highs with 39 receptions and 597 yards, Johnson is far from satisfied. Along with improving those totals in what should be a very potent BC Lions offence, the pride of Brampton, Ontario wants to get back to winning.

“I’m really excited,” said Johnson from his offseason home on Thursday.

“Talking to Ed before I left, I told him we have a lot of unfinished business to take care of in 2020. I’m ready to get back working and that’s the same for the other guys I’ve been in contact with. We want to turn the page, especially with a new head coach coming in and Rick Campbell’s resume speaks for itself. It’s a good look for what we have going on and presents a good mindset going into the season.”

This signing also paints a bigger picture of the overall outlook. When you consider the crop of receivers includes Johnson, Bryan Burnham, Lemar Durant and a young Jevon Cottoy who emerged as the club’s top rookie this past season. With Mike Reilly at the controls, it’s no secret the goal is once again to build an aerial attack that can outscore any opponent on any given week.

“Burnham is a dynamic guy that teams will have to keep four eyes on, Lemar was a guy who was able to step into a bigger role and Jevon is a guy that just has that fight in him,” explained Johnson.

“It’s a great combination with all of them. I am the speed guy that can try and blow up coverages and get the other guys open. I’m definitely excited to do more of that and see what other pieces they might be able to add to this thing.”

The plan for Johnson is to spend a couple more months split between Brampton and London where he does his offseason training before being back at the facility closer to camp for some on-field work with Reilly and the other receivers. Johnson said it was essential they were also able to do that together during the last offseason and establish some chemistry before hitting the practice field in Kamloops with a limited number of days before the first live game action.

“After being with Jennings and Lulay my first couple of years, it was really helpful being out there and just getting to understand how Mike likes his receivers to run the routes,” explained Johnson.

Heading into year five, the former London Jr. and McGill standout will also be counted on to develop more as a leader. Having his younger Hakeem on the squad provides a nice little incentive to grow in that area. Hakeem was a fourth-round draft pick of the Lions last year and suited up in eight games with the action coming primarily on special teams as well as some reps in the secondary. It was the chance for both brothers to live out a lifelong dream of playing together.

 

“It was cool. You don’t really expect things like that to happen but you hope for it,” the older Johnson said.

“Seeing his growth from the first day of camp to when he first got into a game made me really proud and I liked how I was able to help him out along the way. I would like to play with him for the rest of my career so that’s another reason to be hyped for the upcoming season so we can ball together.”

And in a way, Johnson will continue to have to approach it like he is a young rookie coming in. That’s the mindset every player takes when they are looking to impress a new head coach. Johnson can’t wait to play for Campbell.

“I’m excited because Rick’s resume speaks for itself,” he said.

“He got to the Grey Cup three times in a relatively short span and won one of them.  That’s a hard feat to accomplish in this league. Those Ottawa teams were always well prepared and that’s going to be the same with us. I haven’t talked to him yet but I’ve listened to a few interviews and I’m excited to hear his plans and vision for the BC Lions going forward.”

It seems like only yesterday when Shaq’s name was called (also in round four) of the 2016 draft and he was just another prospect with untapped potential reporting to his first camp. He spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad before showing what he can do in 2017. His first career touchdown came in front of family and friends in a big win in Hamilton early that season and he has steadily progressed from there. Now there are more than just personal accomplishments on his mind.

“When you only win five games, that never sits well with the club. As I said, we’re hungry and playoffs are the goal, first and foremost. After that, you never know what can happen.”

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com