May 24, 2024

Quick Hits | Training Camp Day 13

Linebacker Johnny Petrishen -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Notes and quotes from Day 13 of Blue Bombers training camp…

Example #4,653,561 of the topsy-turvy life of a professional football player — back on May 3rd, just a few days before the start of CFL rookie camps, Johnny Petrishen’s phone buzzed to life.

He was a member of the B.C. Lions at that point, having joined the club last September as part of the practice roster expansion and then signing a contract on November 30th.

And then — just like that — he got news he wasn’t a Lion, having been released at the last moment before stepping on the field again for the club for camp earlier this month.

Here’s where the topsy-turvy, wild-and-wacky part of pro football delivers another chapter — three days after the Lions cut him he was putting his name on a contract with the Blue Bombers, and has since been seemingly making inroads every day through the first two weeks of training camp.

“I’m so grateful that Winnipeg picked me up,” Petrishen said Friday in a chat with “To be honest, (the release from the Lions) wasn’t a gut-punch feeling. I’ve been cut before in the NFL and other leagues. I’ve been told ‘no’ many times. But when the Lions released me I kind of felt like something good was about to happen. I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t down. I feel like in my career it’s taught me to handle the emotional roller coaster, so I knew something good was about to happen and when the Blue Bombers called I knew that’s exactly what it was.”

Johnny Petrishen

Petrishen is an intriguing prospect for the Blue Bombers. A safety during his days at Penn State — his final three years there ending with a pair of ankle injuries and a dinged up shoulder — he was a grad transfer to Pitt and made the switch to linebacker and was an All-ACC Honourable Mention selection in his final year. That positional versatility and  his experience on special teams coupled with an NFL look from the Buffalo Bills and his experience with the Lions, delivered a polished pro to the Blue Bombers with a base CFL knowledge already in place.

He then immediately glued himself to the hips of Adam Bighill and Kyrie Wilson to play the sponge, and has seen his workload increase with Bighill’s injury in camp.

“When I signed here and was talking with Ted (Goveia, Assistant GM) one of my first questions was, ‘Who can I learn from? Who can I follow around, learn the game and pick their brain?’ Adam was the first name he mentioned and Kyrie has been instrumental for me, too” Petrishen explained. “Both of them are extremely helpful on the field coaching me after reps but also in the meeting rooms and film… I sit right next to them and they’re always helping critique my reps. I told them, ‘There’s no ego involved in this. Please, I want all the criticism, all the coaching’ because I want to get better and learn from them.’

“I’ve been in (Bighill’s) ear. He’s like an older brother to us as rookies and it’s great to learn from a legend. He does it, he walks it and while he’s hurt right now he’s like an extra coach and he leads by example. He’s a great leader.”

Petrishen, 28, understands fully he needs to embrace this opportunity — the door on his last one slammed shut, after all — while soaking up everything around him.

“It’s so much fun learning from the vets,” he said. “They’ve been extremely welcoming, the facilities are great here, I love the culture and that’s the thing that surprised me the most — it’s not that I was expecting that, it’s just that it’s something that’s great to see when you join a new program.”

An example of that culture?

“The first sign was in a team meeting, somebody’s phone went off and Coach O’Shea encouraged everybody to cough to cover up the sound of the phone so the other coaches wouldn’t hear,” Petrishen said with a smile. “In other places I’ve been you lose your phone or the coaches would be mad. So, Coach O’Shea really implements a players-first mentality feel to everything. This culture… you can tell that everybody cares about each other. It’s a real family feel. Everybody says that, but few places are actually like that.”

Rinse and repeat: Petrishen is not unlike a lot of players in camp with the Blue Bombers in being thrilled just to have another shot. Receiver Josh Johnson is another example. He was with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL last year after spending most of 2022 on the Detroit Lions practice roster. And when the USFL and XFL merged over the winter, Johnson was without a squad until the Blue Bombers called.

Josh Johnson (84) with Deatrick Nichols

“It’s been a huge blessing to be here,” he said Friday. “I’m just so grateful for the opportunity. I love the game of football. This is another opportunity for me to sharpen my tools every day. I never take a day for granted. Every day I wake up I’m grateful to be here and excited and ready to work. There’s a lot of people who want to be in my shoes right now. I’m making sure I never take that for granted.”

Make the moment count: Winnipeg’s final preseason game goes May 31st at home against the Calgary Stampeders, but players shouldn’t wait until then to make their final push for a roster spot or starting gig. We’re officially in the stage of camp where every rep really matters.

“We’re putting the pads on them every day, so they’ve got an opportunity every day to show something different,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “And for different guys there’s different things they need to do and they’ll all be aware of what that is. You hate that long (until the second preseason game) to show us something.”