Meet Nick Johansson, the other guy.
The UBC defensive end may have played second fiddle to McMaster running back Jesse Lumsden at the East West Shrine Game this month, but he shouldn't feel too bad. Just about everyone in Canadian university football has had to live in Lumsden's shadow the past couple of seasons.
But while it gave Lumsden, the all-time CIS single season rushing leader, a platform to showcase his talents to the many pro scouts in attendance, it was equally important to Johansson and all the other players invited to the Shrine Game. After all, you don't get a second opportunity to make a good first impression.
Johansson was part of a rotation of West defensive players that got an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in front of 25,518 people at SBC Park in San Francisco on Jan. 15. The East won the game 45-27.
"I played my heart out and I think that's the most important thing," says Johansson of his Shrine Game experience. "I think they (the scouts) did recognize that. I came in a little banged up. I'm not the kind of player that shies away from anything and I just went in there and played as hard as I could. I think they saw that and they were impressed by that."
"And just the fact that I was picking up so much pretty quickly. I came in the first day and I was kind of a little overwhelmed and as the week (of practice) went on...I was really getting into my game, improving a lot."
The annual Shrine Game has been played since 1925 to raise money and awareness towards the orthopedic, burn and spinal cord injury care units at Shriners Hospitals for Children across North America, including one located in Montreal. The game has raised more than $14 million, helping children receive medical care free of charge.
The event may not be as celebrated as the Super Bowl or Grey Cup, but Johansson joins a long list of football greats that have played the game, including Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, John Elway, Bronko Nagurski, Gale Sayers and Roger Staubach. It's not bad company to be in.
Since 1985, CIS players have received invitations to what is referred to as Football's Finest Hour. The two teams consist mostly of NCAA Division I players expected to go in the middle rounds of the upcoming NFL draft.
Johansson was able to get a first-hand look at how CIS players compare to their American counterparts. The Richmond, B.C. native did notice that the NCAA players he went against had near-perfect technique, but believes there are players in Canadian university football that would have no problem strapping on the pads south of the border.
"Overall just the size and strength, there was a difference, definitely," Johansson admits. "But it's also hard to judge because playing a different game I'm right up on the ball playing the Americans. If I'm playing a yard off, it might be a little bit different."
Johansson performed in relative obscurity in 2003 when UBC struggled to an 0-8 record. The program made considerable inroads this past season, improving to 5-3, including the school's first playoff appearance since 2000.
Johansson played a significant role in the team's success last season, registering 25 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble and one blocked kick. He was third in Canada West with nine tackles for losses in nine games and was named to the CIS defensive all-Canadian first team for his efforts.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers currently hold Johansson's CFL rights, but don't expect him to be playing professional football anytime soon. With one year of university eligibility remaining, Johansson would like to finish what he started with the UBC Thunderbirds.
"We surprised a lot last year. I think we'll even surprise more this upcoming year," Johansson predicts. "We got a lot of guys coming back. Of course, coming from 0-8 and going 5-3, you can't recruit a lot when you're 0-8. We did pretty good. And now that we are 5-3, I think we'll be able to recruit even better. I think as a team we'll be really strong next year."
That's something UBC fans will be glad to hear.