His name is Bruce Johnson, and he’s a starting halfback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Never heard of him?
He’s totally cool with that.
“It’s good that they haven’t said my name for messing up,” Johnson said Friday.
The Bombers completed their preparations for Sunday’s 11th annual Banjo Bowl at Investors Group Field, where once again Johnson will be tasked with covering one of the opposing team’s top receivers. The fact not a lot of people have heard of Johnson is a good thing, because it means he hasn’t been getting torched. He’s ready to break out of his shell, though, because he played his college ball at the University of Miami, where they invented swagger.
“Hopefully you can hear my name if I get some pick sixes or something,” the 26-year-old from Lake City, Fla., said. “I have that U blood in me, so if you see me around here doing something crazy, don’t mind me. That’s just how we act. I’ve been kind of reserved because this is my first year, but I’m about to start letting it loose a little bit.”
Johnson is the reason the Bombers traded Alex Suber to the Toronto Argonauts earlier this week. When Suber went down with a hamstring injury in the second pre-season game, Johnson stepped in and didn’t let go of the starting role. He is one of four Bombers with interceptions this season, and the list of receivers he has shut down is an impressive one. He has lined up against the likes of S.J. Green, Fred Stamps, Jason Barnes and Weston Dressler, whom he will see again on Sunday when the Saskatchewan Roughriders pay their annual post-Labour Day visit.
Another reason you why might not have heard of Johnson is because opposing teams might be steering clear of him, lest he pluck the pigskin out of the air and take it the other way.
“They come at me a little bit. It’s not as much as I thought they would, but they come at me,” Johnson said. “When they do, when the challenge does arise, I’ll take it. You win some, you lose some, but at the end I feel like I win the majority.”
He must be doing rather well, because the Bombers secondary as a whole is winning the majority of its battles this season. An opposing receiver has yet to hit the century mark against the Blue and Gold, who have turned the trick three times in 10 games. Winnipeg is fourth in the CFL when it comes to fewest passing yards allowed per game.
Plenty of that success can be attributed to Johnson, who made the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie in 2009 and proceeded to record the first pick six in AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, off Tony Romo. It was his second career game.
“That set me off, because I was coming in undrafted, I finally made the team, and then I get a chance to play,” he said. “I played the first week and then the second week I came and the sky was the limit from there. I played throughout the rest of the season.”
Johnson earned the most performance-based pay of any Giants player in 2009, giving putting half a million dollars in his bank account when all was said and done. At this point he was probably thinking he would be in the NFL for as long as he wanted. Injuries, however, put him on a path to the Canadian prairies. He injured his knee six games into the 2010 campaign and then tore his Achilles tendon during New York’s 2011 training camp. He went back to Giants camp in 2012 but suffered a serious shoulder injury and the G-Men released him.
Just like that, his NFL days were over.
After spending a year waiting for the call that never came, Johnson decided to turn his attention north. He had no problem starting over in a new league that was in a different country.
“I’m having a great time here. I like it here,” Johnson said. “It’s just new. I’m from a small town, so where I’m from we don’t get to see too much. Just getting out and seeing different things is like an accomplishment. So if I have the means to go see different places in another country, I’ll do it. So this was a plus. I wasn’t down about coming here at all.”