It’s a proven fact over the years: Saskie boys love to play in Saskatchewan.
Evan Johnson is the latest CFL player to return to his home province and join the Riders. He had spent the first three years of his pro career in the nation’s capital after being drafted by the Ottawa Redblacks in the first round, ninth overall during the 2017 CFL Draft.
“Saskatchewan was definitely at the top of the list. We wanted somewhere a little bit closer to home and you can’t get too much closer to home than right in your hometown. It’ll be a good fit for myself and for the Roughriders,” Johnson said in a videoconference.
“Growing up in Regina I went to a whole ton of Rider games, watched the Riders growing up on TV, and always dreamed about being out there as one of them. Being able to come home, play pro football in my hometown, it’s a dream come true.”
General manager Jeremy O’Day wasn’t necessarily interested in the storybook aspect of the signing, instead focusing on Johnson’s football skills. The 26-year-old has developed into one of the best Canadian offensive linemen in the league who can start at guard or tackle.
Johnson believes he’ll compete to start at right guard following the departures of Philip Blake and Dakoda Shepley to the Toronto Argos and San Francisco 49ers, respectively. The addition of Johnson could create an all-Saskatchewan interior with Dan Clark at centre and Brendon LaBatte at left guard.
“If we can have homegrown Saskatchewan talent all the way across the line, that’s a pretty darn cool thing,” Johnson said.
The six-foot-four, 290-pound Regina native has been tasked with protecting prized franchise quarterback Cody Fajardo. Johnson has played against Fajardo and now joins him in Riderville. The QB reached out to his new big man after his signing.
“Just sent me a message saying welcome to the team, looking forward to working with me. I think we’re going to hit it off,” Johnson said. “He’s a great quarterback, great arm, good agility to him.”
Prior to blocking for CFL pivots, Johnson played his U Sports football at the University of Saskatchewan. As a senior he was named a Canada West conference All-Star and U Sports second-team All-Canadian, helping the Huskies offence average 32.6 points per game and 434 yards per game. At the same time, Johnson completed his degree in civil engineering.
“I’ve been working as an engineer the past year with a company called Pinter and Associates. They’ve got an office in Saskatoon and Regina. I’ve been progressing engineering my knowledge and skills, that’s my game plan for after football, whenever that day comes,” Johnson said.
Even though Johnson enjoys engineering, he wants to play pro until his body won’t physically handle allow him anymore. It’s easy to envision Johnson playing the rest of his career for the Riders.
“Playing professional football is a dream come true, and when you get to play for your hometown team, that’s just extra special,” Johnson said.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun being in front of friends and family back home and wearing the home team colours for a change. I was always hoping to make my way back — Saskatchewan is home.”