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An avid Argos supporter and season ticket holder, Don Landry has covered almost every type of news from sports to music to talk radio in his 25 years of broadcasting and has conducted over 10,000 interviews with the likes of Prime Ministers, Premiers, sports legends, showbiz stars, power brokers and many more. Follow Don on Twitter @argoslandry or visit his website at donlandry.com.
MISSISSAUGA — If you’re a keen observer of the Argos then you shouldn’t be surprised that iron man running back Jeff Johnson has a 5 year old pet Boxer named Barry Sanders. Seems perfect for him, doesn’t it? The dog’s characteristics, in some ways, mirror its master’s. The Sanders part seems pretty self explanatory.
“I didn’t know anything about the Boxer breed,” began Johnson. “I started to read up on it and some of its key attributes are speed and agility. I thought, ‘wow, this is a perfect dog for me. I love it!” he added, with a raucous laugh.
“I know I’m known, in this league, as a fullback, but I like to think of myself as a speed/agility guy.” Again, a healthy laugh.
As Johnson gets set for the 200th game of his CFL career (the lion’s share with the Argos – he played his first 36 with Hamilton), it might be some of the other qualities attributed to the Boxer that fans may associate with Johnson as well.
They’re a medium sized breed, known for being powerful, with strong jaws ideal for hanging on to large prey. Okay, Johnson hasn’t LITERALLY locked his jaws onto an opponent, but you get the point. More like he has locked on to his CFL career, giving it everything he’s got. And there’s no finish line in sight for a 31 year old who still feels the heart of a hungry rookie beating inside.
“To be honest, I feel like I’m 25. And my body feels great. My heart’s still in it, too.”
The York University standout has earned the devotion of Argos fans, not for racking up scads of yards the way he did over his college career (3,365, to be exact) but, rather, for his determination and dedicated play over the course of 10 seasons. Johnson has appeared to be the quintessential team player, putting his head down and getting it done, whatever “it” was asked of him. Pave the way for returners on special teams? Check. Blow up your opponents’ return schemes? Lug the football back yourself? Check.
Bulldoze a hole for the running back or chip block a blitzing linebacker?
Sub in at running back or slot effectively when needed? Check and check again. A lot of it may not be terribly glorious, but he doesn’t begrudge it when asked if he’d change anything.
“If I was asked that a few years ago, I may have said ‘a few more carries here and there, some more opportunities to start.’ But, you know, what I’ve ended up doing opened up more opportunities and challenged me and helped me grow as a person. So, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Still, Johnson does get a great burst of happiness when he gets the chance to run with the rock.
“Every now and then, I still touch the football and it still gives me that feeling I had when I was in high school or university, running all over the field, making those big guys miss.”
Now, nobody tell Cory Boyd I said this, but, a check of Johnson’s career stats would suggest it would be a good thing to have him rush the ball more often. This season, he’s gotten to do that just 9 times. But he’s amassed 67 yards, a 7.4 yard average. At that rate, Johnson needs just three rushes to send his career total over a thousand yards. His career average is a very respectable 4.4 yards, while he’s caught 120 passes in is pro career, for 1,014 yards. All the while, Johnson has done his level best to ensure he keeps his physical edge.
“Every off-season I bust my arse to get myself in the best possible shape I can be in. The kids are getting stronger and stronger every year, they’re getting faster, and I know that I’m competing against those guys.
The only way you’re going to stay ahead of the game is through the best nutrition possible and the up-to-speed training.”
That dedication to physical well-being has likely assisted Johnson in persevering in a brutal sport that is not known to be good for one’s physical well-being. He dressed for 114 straight games to begin his career. It wasn’t until Week 7 of his 7th season that he stayed in civvies due to a quad injury. Outside of a broken leg in 2007, Johnson has managed to stay remarkably sound. There have been 212 opportunities for him to suit up over the course of his CFL career and he has strapped on a helmet all but 13 times.
“Nutrition is essential to letting your body recover,” he says. “And recovery allows you to play at your peak when that opportunity comes again. If you haven’t fully recovered, then you’re going to leave yourself susceptible to an injury.”
After 12 seasons of pro ball, and a disappointing season of team struggles, you could forgive a man if he started to lose his passion for the game. It’s not happening to Johnson, though.
“Every game to me is like another game in the playground. It has been an absolutely phenomenal experience and I look forward to continuing this as long as my body says ‘hey, you’re good to go.”
Friday night, his body will tell him, for the 200th time in his CFL career, that he is, indeed, good to go.
THE EXTRA POINT
Johnson’s durability has been one of those remarkable things, and should he keep it going, it has him on pace to finish the season at 167 career games as an Argo. That would see him pass such greats as Rodney Harding, Jude St John (165 each) and Adrion Smith (166) and sit at number 9 all-time. With his dedication to physical fitness and a sharp appetite to play, who knows how far he can climb towards Don Moen‘s all-time record of
222 games played? There’s another motivating factor at play for Johnson as well.
“My kids now see me on the field and there’s another driving force for me continuing to play. The excitement of having them see their daddy playing on the field.”
Johnson and his wife, Kelly, have three young children. Maya, Justyce and Lincoln Jet, who was born last May.