Houston born and raised, Kierrie Johnson starred in the NCAA with the Houston Cougars before beginning his CFL journey with the BC Lions in 2011. Over the course of his 5 year career, Johnson played 19 games in 4 cities, made 107 catches for 747 yards, scored 2 touchdowns and was a part of 2 Grey Cup winning teams.
How did you wind up playing for the Redblacks?
After playing with Saskatchewan in 2013, I was let go and became a free agent. With Ottawa entering the league in 2014, I felt that they were the best option for my career and that I could really benefit from a new start. I also knew WR coach Travis Moore from my time in BC, and since we had a good relationship then, I felt pleased to be working with him again.
Did the idea of going to a completely new team appeal to you, or would you have preferred to sign somewhere more established?
I liked the idea of playing for a brand new team. Not only was everything new, but it gave me the sense that I could become the player I knew I was capable of being.
Being an expansion team, what were some of the challenges you guys faced?
The biggest challenge by far was team chemistry, as from coaches to players, everybody was coming in at the same time. Though some of the guys on the team had been around the league for awhile and had some buzz around their name, the reality is, we were all pretty much the new kid on the block. For every veteran we had, there was like four others guys just getting started in their career.
Your 4th quarter catch in the Redblacks’ first home game in franchise history set up the winning points. How big of a moment was that for you personally?
It was huge for me for two reasons. The first is that I dropped what would’ve been the first touchdown in TD Place history early in the game. I was a bit pissed off since I’d clearly gotten behind the defence and it was an easy catch. After dropping that pass, I really wanted to make up for it and put the team on my back, which is why I didn’t drop anything else thrown my way for the rest of the night. Secondly, that catch was monumental for the city and the Redblacks’ organization as a whole, since it reminded the league that Ottawa was officially back.
What was it like to catch passes from a Hall of Famer like Henry Burris?
It was great. Hank’s my guy and always showed me love from the first day we met. I always wanted to have his back and made sure I did whatever I could to keep his legacy in the CFL as great as it ought to be.
How would you describe your time with the Redblacks?
I loved my time with the Redblacks. Off the field the organization took care of their players no matter if we were winning or losing and that means a lot. Especially because in 2014 we had a lot of losses, but that never changed how management treated us. For me personally, despite being injured for most of the year, it was really good to be around everyone day to day and to be included as part of the team.
Over the course of your career you played in four different cities, how does Ottawa compare to Vancouver, Regina and Toronto?
Vancouver and Ottawa are the best cities I’ve played in, I love both places. Regina was a great football town with die-hard fans and a solid organization, but Vancouver and Ottawa were my favourites. As for Toronto, I’ll borrow some lines from Drake to say that I ran through the Six with my woes hahaha. The city itself is great but I just didn’t like the Argo organization.
Your 1st career TD catch was in the 2011 Grey Cup when you were a member of the BC Lions. Describe that moment for me and what was it like playing for the championship at home?
It was a defining moment not only in my career but also in life. My roommate that season was RB/KR Tim Brown. All year he told me that I was going to catch my first TD during the Grey Cup game. I’d laugh at him but agreed it would be sweet if it wound up happening. That’s why it was so surreal when I made that catch and scored. I was on such a natural high. As for playing for the championship at home, there’s nothing better. All of my VanCity family was out at the game supporting me and it was a perfect night for both the city and the BC Lions. As a player, that’s exactly the kind of night you dream about. In 2013, I was with Saskatchewan and it was a similar feeling since we also won the Grey Cup at home. That being said, I wasn’t able to dress for that game, so the 99th Grey Cup will always be the most cherished moment in my career.
Were you a superstitious player?
No, not really. I had things I did to get myself ready for each game but it was more of a routine to make sure I was focused as opposed to anything superstitious. I didn’t wear any special dirty socks or stuff like that. I prayed of course, but that’s something I do on any given day.
What was the worst hit you took in your career?
Tyron Brackenridge nailed me on a reverse play in 2012. The hit itself didn’t hurt at all, yet I was really confused as to how he got to me so fast, since before the play started I saw him on the other side of the field. Once the ball was in my hands, I started running and BOOM, was hammered. I got up looking like Chris Tucker in Rush Hour when he gets kicked in the face by one of the gang members in the restaurant, asking “Which one of y’all hit me?”
Every player has a nickname or two, what was yours?
I’ve had nicknames since I played Pop Warner but in the CFL it was mostly “Klutch” or “KJ”. Actually, in college I played with current Redblack SirVincent Rogers and he called me “Yung Swag”
Why did you wear #10?
Oddly enough, I didn’t get to choose my number. I arrived in BC and they assigned it to me. It worked out great since it was the one I’d wanted anyways. I liked #10 because of DeSean Jackson, I always saw myself as the same type of player. I just didn’t get the same opportunities as he did, mainly because of some unfortunate injuries and the NFL lockout in 2011.
Considering that the Redblacks’ franchise is only 3 years old, are you surprised with how successful it has been? What do you think the biggest reason for their success is?
Last year I was surprised at how fast they got things turned around but the organization is so well run that it wasn’t a total shock. The pieces they added (especially those prime time receivers) and the chemistry of their coaching staff is really solid. Their coaches do an excellent job using the talent they have.
Since your retirement in 2015, what have you been doing for work?
Since retiring I’ve gotten into the sports performance business with my own group called #SweetFeetProductions. I work with local athletes, focusing on speed and agility within their specific sports. I played numerous sports growing up and have developed an extensive understanding of how training correlates to high performance during games. Aside from that, I’ve also been working in the education system to figure out what my next move will be. I’d ideally like to get into coaching. And while it’s not work per se, I’m also training myself as I want to take a run at qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in long jump and the 400 metre hurdles.
Now that you are retired, what do you most miss about playing in the CFL?
Outside of making big plays and hearing the crowd go crazy, I miss the energy from the fans and the locker room camaraderie that comes from hanging with the guys. I played with a lot of good people and I’m blessed to have met those guys.
Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of myself for always bouncing back from injuries and never giving up due to the circumstances I was put in. Coming out of college I aspired to play in the NFL, but as the lockout happened during my draft year, I wasn’t able to fulfill that dream. But the CFL gave me a real sense of love and I made incredible relationships with fans, teammates and friends in the cities I lived in. I’m so thankful that God had it in his plan for me to experience Canada, because I honestly don’t think I would have if not for playing professional football. I’m happy I beat the odds and that I overcame so many people’s perception that I was too small to play pro football or to impact the teams I was a part of.
Which current CFL wide receiver is your favourite to watch?
I love watching my boys Deonte Spencer (Toronto), Ernest Jackson (Ottawa) and Chad Owens (Hamilton). I’m definitely a bit biased towards them because a) they’re all great receivers and b) I played with and know them on a personal level. I’ll take any one of those game changers on my team any day.
Thanks so much for your time Kierrie and for all you did to help establish the Redblacks franchise. Best of luck with your company and your bid to make the Tokyo Olympics!