Ex-Riders revved up

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

August 31, 2008.

Jovon Johnson has had that date circled on his calendar since he first arrived at Winnipeg's training camp.

And that circle kept being traced in bolder and bolder ink as that date drew nearer.

"I've been looking forward to this game since I first came to Winnipeg," Johnson said yesterday. "In training camp, I was looking forward to playing Saskatchewan."

It has nothing to do with the intense rivalry between the Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders that has come to characterize the annual Labour Day Classic.

"This is an opportunity for me to go out there, play against them and get a chance to really prove myself, and let them know what kind of player they let go," said the 5-foot-9, 181-pound import defensive back.

Johnson fell out of favour with former Saskatchewan head coach Kent Austin over something the sophomore said that he took the wrong way. And the Riders eventually let him go.

"The things I went through there, some of them were uncalled for," said Johnson, 24. "But, at the same time, I look forward to going out there and playing the best game I can play."

Johnson made his presence felt as a ball hawk on a Bomber defence in desperate need of thieves. He has picked off two passes for 80 yards. That includes the one he returned for an 80-yard touchdown -- the longest interception return in the CFL this season.

Johnson also filled a capable role as a punt returner until Jason Armstead arrived before Winnipeg's last game.

Armstead also parted ways with Saskatchewan less than amicably last August. In 2006, he was second on the team with 47 receptions for 651 yards and club-leading six TDs. But Saskatchewan sent him to Hamilton in a trade to acquire running back/kick returner Corey Holmes and slotback Ryan Getzlaf.

Since that parting, Armstead has played for Hamilton, Montreal and now, Winnipeg.

"I was an Alouette, a Tiger-Cat and now I'm a Blue Bomber," said Armstead, 28. "What happened in Regina was left back there ... It's a great organization. (Roughriders president/CEO) Jim Hopson, (GM) Eric Tillman, all those guys gave me an opportunity. It was another opportunity in life. I seized it while I was there.

"Is there any bitterness? I'll never forget but I've always been taught to take the high road with everything."

He has already embarked on a new road.

"It's another game on the schedule," said the kick returner/wide receiver. "I'm a Blue Bomber now. We've got to go up against a good team and I think we'll be well-prepared for them."

Johnson, at least, was kept around long enough to earn a Grey Cup ring with the 'Riders, who beat the Bombers in the 2007 championship.

"I wouldn't bring out the ring just out of respect for the guys on this team who've worked hard," he said. "Some of them have been playing for a number of years and still haven't gotten a ring. So, just out of respect for that, I don't go around flashing my ring to the other guys on the team.

"The fact still remains, I was with Saskatchewan when they won the Grey Cup last year so, at the same time, I'm looking forward to trying to help us get back there this year."

You can beat he would love to play the Riders in that one.


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