From gymnastics to football; Johns’ passion for the grid iron lands him a spot on the Hilltops

Gavin Johns.--Submitted photo.

It wasn’t the conventional way for St. Mary’s Gavin Johns to get into the game of football, but it was a path that worked out just fine for the grade 12 slot back receiver.

After playing four years of high school football, Johns committed to the Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) signing day on June 1st.

“It feels really good,” Johns said. “It feels like a lot of the work that I’ve put into the sport has paid off. I think that I really lucked out. I’ve taken a lot of the core values from St. Mary and implemented that into my play style, and that’s what separated me from the other competition at tryouts.

“I’m really excited to start this new chapter in my life, and I’m hoping to take those core values that I’ve learned from high school and become a leader in the next few years on the Hilltops.”

Johns didn’t start playing football until his freshman year in high school. Growing up in La Ronge, he put more focus into gymnastics than anything else.

In grade seven and eight Johns decided to give flag football a try, and fell in love with the sport from there. When he entered high school, it became clear that giving football a shot was the best decision he could have made.

“When I got to St. Mary in grade nine, all of my friends were playing football, so it made me want to turn a new leaf and try something new,” Johns explained. “Gymnastics had really given me a solid base to work with, in terms of strength and flexibility, and I knew that I use those as skills for football. Doing gymnastics helped a lot with my football career, but I really fell in love with the team aspect of football, compared to gymnastics which is more of a solo thing.”

The Marauders football team endorsed five core values all season: trust, grit, ownership, passion, and teamwork. Johns says focusing on those traits has helped him become a leader on the team, and hopes he can carry them over to Saskatoon.

He has had help along the way during his high school career. The man that has helped him the most along his journey has been his coach, Curt Hundeby. Johns says the knowledge that he was able to gain of the sport because of Hundeby has given him this shot to crack the Hilltops roster.

“Mr. Hundeby is one of, if not the smartest football coaches that I have ever had the opportunity to play for,” Johns said. “He knows so much about the sport, and he has given me so much wisdom from his past in football.

“I think the main thing that he has helped me with the most is the mental aspect of the sport, and how to really set your mind into working as a team. Not only thinking about football, but using some of those values in the real world.”

On a personal note, it took a lot of dedication for Johns to step up his compete level. He didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic drive him away from the sport, rather he became even more committed to becoming a better athlete. Once he was able to step onto the field once again in his senior year, he made the most of it, sharing the Marauders’ Most Valuable Player award with fellow senior Ethan Gee.

As a grade 12 player on the team, Johns was also relied on to be a leader on the team throughout the season. He was able to prove his worth on the team, and provide the proper guidance for rookie players, who’s shoes he was once in. He thinks the time spent in the gym as well as being a leader on his team will help his game as he works his way through the ranks.

“At the start of grade 11, I was 6’1 and weighed 140 pounds,” Johns explained. “I was very underweight, and I was sick and tired of being pushed around on the football field. During the pandemic, all I did was work out and go to the gym, and I came back onto the field weighing 175 pounds, and I was able to rock some heads. Going to the gym has given me more muscle and more confidence, and more quality of life. It gave me more ability to do more things on the football field.

“I’ve heard some really good examples from teachers on how they don’t get a day off from teaching. I think that, paired with my maturity and time management skills is going to give me a really good edge on the other players that were also signed this year.”