Augustine always ready to be Johnny on the spot
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Johnny Augustine isn’t one to sweat the small stuff. He does pride himself on doing all the little things to ensure he’s in peak shape.
Just one look at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back, who is about as physically fit as anyone on the team, including possessing an eight-pack of abs, and you get a good idea of just how disciplined he is. Dig a bit deeper and you get a better understanding of where that attitude and consistency comes from.
“It’s just about getting my body right – physically, mentally and spiritually,” Augustine told the Free Press following training camp on Wednesday. “I love what I do, and I love the process.”
Consider his off-season, which Augustine said starts off with some self-reflection and a break from the weight room while he deals with any lingering injuries. That includes a lot of soft tissue work, before hitting the weights hard in the months leading up to a new season.
A big part of preparing for the season is ensuring he has the right frame of mind, something Augustine said is critical to enjoying what he does. He also keeps a healthy diet, which he said began at an early age, around seven years old.
“That’s when I started doing martial arts, which kind of set that discipline and foundation for me,” said Augustine, who is a second-degree black belt. “I remember telling my mom, ‘Hey, instead of cereal, I want protein shakes.’ She looked at me like I was crazy. For me, it’s not even like it’s work, it’s more of a lifestyle.”
That lifestyle has helped Augustine carve out a lengthy football career, now in his fifth CFL season, all of which have been in Winnipeg. It’s also what’s made him a respected presence in the locker room, even if he isn’t earning a ton of playing time as the backup tailback.
Augustine, 29, is behind Brady Oliveira on the depth chart, despite many, at least in recent years, believing he could be a starter. The Bombers gave Oliveira the No. 1 role last season, in which the 25-year-old started slowly but finished with 1,001 rushing yards.
As for Augustine, he dressed in all 18 regular-season games, plus the West Final and Grey Cup, but was limited to just 65 carries for 290 yards – an average of 4.5 yards per run. That average was well below his rate in previous years, which between 2018 and 2021 (the 2020 season was cancelled owing to COVID-19) were 7.3 yards, 6.4 yards and 7.1 yards, respectively.
With Oliveira getting injured early into training camp, it’s Augustine who has been taking a majority of the reps with the first-team offence. Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea hasn’t provided much insight on Oliveira’s status, other than to say he expects him to be ready for the season.
“Coming into my fifth year, I’ve always said I’ll do whatever they want me to do,” Augustine said. “Whether it’s special teams or carrying the load at running back, I’m going to be ready. I can go from not getting any reps to doing all of them.”
He added: “I’m not a guy who wants attention or seeks attention. Actions will always speak louder than words.”
O’Shea has spent years bringing in players who fit his model of accountability and consistency, creating a strong team culture. Augustine fits perfectly within that construct and his willingness to play special teams — which he never did at the University of Guelph, which is also O’Shea’s alma mater — has only further endeared him to his coach and teammates.
“We appreciated him quite early on for what he could do as a tailback physically, but Johnny has always been that type of guy that just trusts in his ability and he trusts in the coaches and the team,” O’Shea said. “The type of guy Johnny is, he’s going to take his role and whatever he’s given he’s going to make the most of. We don’t stock our room full of complainers. He’s not going to complain at all. He’s going to be ready. Those two things are very important for a guy who’s taking less reps than another guy.”
He’s considered among the greatest to ever play special teams in the CFL. Despite all the punishment that comes with running down-field and delivering violent hit after violent hit, Mike Miller, after more than a decade in the league, said he’s still feeling pretty young.
“I still feel like a rookie when I come into training camp, at least I try to keep that mindset,” Miller said. “My body feels great and I’m going to continue to do this until it isn’t. Right now, I feel I could play another four or five years.”
A good sign for Miller, who has played 12 seasons and is the CFL’s all-time leader in special-teams tackles with 226, is that he’s actually practising during training camp. He was held out of workouts nearly all season last year as he dealt with a lingering injury.
That appears to be behind him. So, too, is last year’s loss to the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup. Miller was one of several players wearing his emotions following the narrow 24-23 defeat, including a tearful interview with the Free Press.
“It took me a bit to watch the film,” the 34-year-old Miller admitted. “Once I sat down and had a few whiskeys while watching it, I just flushed it and it was time to move on.”
It’s no secret that O’Shea, who is a big proponent when it comes to the importance of special teams, is equally a big a fan of Miller. The two are pretty much clones, even if they’re separated by several years in age.
Asked why he thinks Miller has been able to perform at such a high level, for such a long time, in such a physically demanding role, the Bombers coach had plenty to say.
“It’s the type of guy he is,” he said. “He’s obviously talented in terms of his athleticism and whatever you’re going to measure is not going to make a difference. You put him in any sport and he will find a way to be successful in that sport. Looking at him and the way he plays, when there’s contact to be had he’s really, really stout through the core. Smart, loves the game, does it for the right reasons.
“The story is, undrafted, and we’re talking to (Acadia University head coach) Jeff Cummins, who is coaching him, and he says, ‘I don’t know where or how or what, but that guy is going to play special teams in the CFL.’ You put on the film and he’s a safety, but he’s running down on kickoff and he’s just annihilating everybody and making plays. And it didn’t stop when he got here.
“More than anything else — and he has all these other attributes — it’s the type of man he is. It’s just he’s wired that way.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.