Zach Johnson has been working out nonstop for more than a year in hopes of showing why he belongs in professional football.
He has finally opened some eyes in the Canadian Football League.
Johnson, a 2007 Tumwater High School graduate, signed a two-year contract with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, and reports to rookie minicamp in late May. The CFL doesn’t release players’ salary figures.
“It’s really exciting to finally know, and not have to worry where I’m going to play,” Johnson said.
Johnson hasn’t played since his career at Eastern Washington ended in the 2012 Football Championship Series semifinals in a 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State.
Part of his time has been spent rehabbing from a January 2013 surgery to repair a torn labrum. He said he’s 100 percent healthy.
Married and living outside of Spokane in the town of Chattaroy, the 24-year-old Johnson caught the attention of the Stampeders after his workout at Eastern’s Pro Day earlier this month. He fared well, completing every task but the 40-yard dash because of a tweaked hamstring.
Still, that workout – and some lobbying from Calgary quarterback and former Eastern Washington teammate Bo Levi Mitchell – persuaded the Stampeders to sign him.
“They wanted to see how healthy I was at Pro Day,” he said. “The way (I performed) at Pro Day, they wanted to sign me.”
As a projected linebacker or hybrid linebacker-safety, the 6-foot-1 Johnson said he has added 10 pounds from his college playing weight and now weighs 230. During his six-year college career, plagued, in part, by injuries, Johnson started every game he played at linebacker – 39 – and ranks seventh in career tackles (324). In the 2010-11 season, he helped lead the Eagles to their first FCS national title.
In high school, Johnson was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball). As a senior in 2006, he was named The Olympian’s All-Area football Player of the Year after rushing for a Tumwater single-season rushing mark of 1,918 yards to help the T-Birds to the 2A state semifinals.
That spring, he and his twin brother, Matt, signed letters of intent to play football at Eastern.
The CFL’s regular season runs June 28-Nov. 8; the Stampeders host Montreal in their season opener June 28. The Vancouver-based B.C. Lions are the closest CFL team from South Sound’s proximity; Calgary travels to play B.C. on June 20 for its final exhibition game.
Johnson knows it’s been a long journey getting to this point but is ready for the next step as a professional. Both Johnson brothers are now pro football players; Matt Johnson is set to begin his third NFL season – all with the Dallas Cowboys.
“Hopefully it’s just the beginning,” Zach Johnson said. “I’m excited to prove I belong.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports@MegWochnick