This Jeff no mutt

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

Jeff Johnson played his hockey for Duffield, played his volleyball for Etobicoke Collegiate, played his soccer wherever he could find a game and never thought much about football when he was a kid.

It was a sport for others, an afterthought. That much he understands now, because for most of his six seasons in the Canadian Football League, he has been a career afterthought.

The undrafted kid nobody noticed. The kid from York University, of all places, that nobody talked about.

A hometown kid without any kind of profile.

"I was trying out for the school volleyball team in Grade 12 and was working out in the weight room and this guy, Tom Longhurst, came over to me said 'Hey, you're a big guy, why don't you come out and play for the football team?'

"My parents were all behind it. I went to practice the next day and the starting running back hurt his ankle. I barely had any practice and they asked me to start."

He ran for five touchdowns his first game -- two of them called back on penalties -- and Jeff Johnson has been a football player ever since.

Albeit an anonymous one.

He actually began playing football two years earlier when he tried out for the junior team at Etobicoke. He went to the first practice, got injured, and turned his equipment in the next day.

Some people thought his CFL career would last about that long. One practice, one game, maybe one season. Success has not come quickly or easily. And until a few stunning weeks ago, when he didn't just replace John Avery in the Argos backfield but appeared to surpass him, who would even know what a Jeff Johnson is?

"He's one of the most tremendous kids I've ever coached in my life," said Tom Arnott, who recruited Johnson to play at York.

For the record, this isn't a typical recruiting story.

Nebraska and Iowa weren't waiting for Johnson with offers of cash, candy and an education. No one was. In the end, Johnson was deciding on two schools -- York or Ryerson.

Only one of them had a football team.

"Tom did a good job of convincing me to go to York," Johnson said.

"The thing about Jeff Johnson I'll never forget is, we'd play a game, he'd come off the field and everybody else would be half-dead and he'd go and do a two-hour workout in the weight room," said coach Arnott, now at the University of Guelph.

Johnson was so impressive playing football at York, being the first Yeoperson to ever win a national award, that not a single CFL team bothered to draft him.

"I never understood that," Arnott said. "He went to that combine camp and I have since looked back at the results. He did well in the 40, did well in strength, vertical jump, everything. I was pretty mad about it at the time but I never asked anybody why.

"Had they told me, I probably would have said something I would have regretted so it's a good thing I didn't know."

Johnson was all prepared to play his final season at York when he got a call from Ron Lancaster in 1999, three days before training camp, asking him if he was interested in going to the Tiger-Cats camp.

"I knew then he wasn't coming back," Arnott said.

This is Johnson's fourth year with the Argos after two rather uneventful years in Hamilton and, until Hakim Hill was sent home and Sean Millington snapped his Achilles tendon, he was just another player in Double Blue. This time, the last man standing.

"He does things on game day you can't see on the practice field," Argos coach Pinball Clemons said. "He's a game player and we love him."

Just a little more than they loved him when they didn't know the kind of player he could be.


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