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From November 21, 2017
It wasn’t the piece of memorabilia he most coveted from this past season, but Shaq Johnson insists the game ball presented to him following his first CFL touchdown will always have a special place in his heart.
“I have it in a glass case, and will take it with me wherever I go. Right now it’s at my Mom’s house until I get a new place,” said Johnson from his offseason home in Brampton, Ontario.
The milestone came in a rather eventful victory in Hamilton on July 15th when Jonathon Jennings went down with his shoulder injury on the Lions’ first offensive play from scrimmage. Travis Lulay’s all-world performance kick started with a ten-yard touchdown to Johnson that set the tone for a big night in Steel Town. What made it more special for Johnson was the fact it was practically in his own backyard. Plenty of loved were ones in attendance.
“That was just an awesome feeling. A lot of work had paid off after not coming from a whole lot (growing up), so it was just a great feeling to have not only my Mom and Dad there, but some close friends I had growing up. It was great to see my whole journey come to and get the big win. Being in Hamilton made it much sweeter,” explained the London Beefeaters Junior product.
It helped set the tone in what would be a much more productive season for the 2016 fourth round draft pick. Johnson finished the campaign with 30 catches for 521 yards and two majors, finishing behind only Ottawa’s Brad Sinopoli amongst Canadian receivers in total yardage, and earned the club’s nomination for CFL Most Outstanding Canadian. That no doubt proved to be a pleasant surprise after Johnson only dressed for two games in his rookie season.
“I enjoyed just going out there, being a pro, being able to execute plays and help my team any way I could,” said Johnson.
“Anytime the ball came or I had to block or do anything of that sort; I was just happy about that. I am definitely not happy about the way it turned out record wise, but that’s what the offseason is for: just to recap and get back to it.
Johnson is slated to become a free agent in February. He made it clear his number one priority is to put pen to paper on a new deal long before then, and is even planning on spending a big portion of his winter on the west coast. Johnson points to the chemistry with current teammates as a vital part of his development.
“I feel that’s why I want to come back. Just hanging with the guys in the locker room and being with the same guys on offence would be a more positive look for me. I want to stay with the organization,” said Johnson.
Another big priority over the next few months is approaching the workouts as if he is battling for a spot, and taking nothing for granted as he looks to become the franchise’s next star Canadian receiver. The recent retirements of Shawn Gore and Marco Iannuzzi mean the torch must be passed. Johnson and 2017 first round pick Danny Vandervoort will both continue to have high expectations. The former says ‘bring it on.’
“Along with having to be very durable and agile, you have to make sure you’re out there getting smarter. Teams are going to be watching me now. You have to be able to execute at a higher level the next season,” added Johnson.
“When I come back it’s just going to be about getting back to the practice field and get back in the weight room with (Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris) Boyko. I am doing stuff out here, but when I come back it will be mingling with the guys and definitely get to it for next season.”
His mother Karen will always be the main source of Johnson’s motivation. After moving to Canada from Jamaica, she raised Shaq and his three siblings on her own. The situation became so hard that he actually left McGill University after his first season to help out at home, finding a spot with the Junior Toronto Grizzlies to continue his football craft. From there he went on to excel with London.
“She has definitely had an impact on my life; just understanding that she was a single mother and had to go out there and just work,” said Johnson.
“I always knew I would have to go hard at work, whatever it was that I ended up doing. It was a lot of motivation because what she went through wasn’t easy. The motivation just gave me strength to keep going harder to help her and my siblings out.”
If there is one common theme in talking with this group of players after a season gone wrong, it is the fact the taste in their mouths is still sour. And it will be for quite some time.
“It fuels me a lot. Nobody likes losing and I am a big competitor with whatever I am doing. It’s about flipping the record around next year and trying to be the number one team in the West. That’s what we have to train for and be ready to do once pre-season kicks off.”
It’s all about getting that shinier piece of memorabilia.