CALGARY — Johnny Sears Jr. has a new bike with a sleek aluminum frame, carbon fork, disc brakes and an understated but stylish copper-coloured paint job. He ponders for a moment as he tries to find the automotive equivalent.
“It’s fast but smooth so … it’s kinda like a Chevy Impala,” he finally decides. “I’ve got an Impala with two wheels.”
Sears bought his new ride from a local bike shop this spring, shortly after signing with the Ticats in May. A defensive back with five-years of CFL experience, he’d drawn interest from several teams after his former one, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, decided to move on without him. Sears spoke with former teammate and current Ticat Brandon Stewart and defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer before deciding to come to Hamilton.
“I want to go some place I could excel in a defence and win,” Sears said. “Watching them on tape, this is a defence that dictates to the offence instead of sitting back and waiting. I like that part of it.”
Steinauer says his recruiting pitch was simple honesty. He told Sears he’d get a look at multiple spots in the secondary — he played corner, strong side linebacker and halfback during training camp — and that’d he likely play special teams.
“Having played for 12 years, I know that one of the more frustrating things is when you’re misled and there’s nothing worse than a disgruntled employee,” Steinauer said. “The thing I really enjoy about Johnny is that he’s self-motivated.”
Sears grew up in a tough part of Fresno, Calif., raised by a single mother and surrounded by a large extended family. His younger brother, Marte, was recently signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns
“It was rough and I learned a lot real quick. You can get sucked in but if you’ve got a strong mind and a good support system, it helps a lot,” Sears said. “We wanted a lot but we got what we needed. My mom is where my work ethic and drive comes from.”
Sears played two seasons at the University of Michigan before being dismissed from the team and says that the loss of two close friends, Patrick Murphy and Roshaad Green, in a car accident just after he began his freshman year had a dramatic impact on his life.
“It showed me that any moment could be your moment. It hurt a great deal and it altered me for a couple years,” said Sears, who has their names tattooed on his arms. “There was a void and I still feel it.”
Sears got a second chance at Eastern Michigan where played in nine games before getting a free agent tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL. From there, he headed to the Bombers where he collected 127 tackles and six interceptions.
In his first contest with his new club, Sears added to his INT total by picking off Stampeders’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell twice, including one that was returned for a touchdown. It was the kind of play that Steinauer envisioned when he convinced him to join his defensive unit.
“He’s learning. He made two big plays, gave up one in the game against Calgary,” Steinauer said. “I tend to look for the more versatile athlete. It’s easy to put a body there but I want people who can play the position. I think he fit that mould.”
Thursday night, Sears will return to Winnipeg to face his old club and while he says there are no hard feelings, he’s looking forward to the game.
“For some odd reason, they felt they could win without me. I don’t take it personally but now they’ve got to fear me,” he said. “I plan on having a lot of fun and coming out with a W.”
Sears has used his new bike to get to know his new city — he’s still looking for a place to live in Hamilton — and as an affordable way to stay in shape. It’s a new experience for him but one that he’s enjoying.
“This is the first bike I’ve ever bought and I love it,” he said. “It feels like an investment in myself.”