It didn’t take Tom Johnson long to figure out what sweater number he wanted to wear when he joined the Stealth.
He grabbed 8.
``Colin Doyle wears 7 so I figured 8 would be the next best thing,’’ Johnson explains.
The second-year pro, emerging as a solid National Lacrosse League forward, has appeared in all 10 of San Jose’s games this season and has 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points.
``I’m a pick-and-roll guy,’’ he says when asked to describe his role in the offence. ``I battle hard to help my teammates get open and try to capitalize when I get scoring chances.’’
Johnson communicates well with Doyle as they fend off checks in tight quarters in the attacking zone.
``It’s awesome,’’ Johnson says of getting to run with a future NLL Hall of Famer. ``I set a good pick and the next thing you know the ball is in my stick.’’
Doyle and Johnson are among a group of Stealth players who live in the same apartment complex in the San Jose burbs during the lacrosse season.
Johnson, 23, is a muscular six-foot-two Canadian who began playing indoor lacrosse at the age of eight in the Vancouver region’s North Delta organization. His grandfather, John Reid, played for the Vancouver Burrards senior team, and Johnson also plays during the summer for the Burnaby Lakers in the same Western Lacrosse Association amateur circuit as did his grandfather.
Johnson was the seventh player selected in the 2007 NLL entry draft out of Bellarmine University. He spent one year at the Kentucky school before moving back to Vancouver and enrolling at the University of British Columbia.
``I decided that field lacrosse really wasn’t for me,’’ he explains. ``And I wanted to enter the NLL draft.’’
The Stealth were happy to get him.
He spends his winters in the San Jose region and the remainder of his year in the Vancouver region so he can attend UBC classes and play football. While in California, he takes three classes in a distance education program offered by his home-province university.
He loves football and was a quarterback in high school. He was a wide receiver with the UBC Thunderbirds last autumn and intends to play intercollegiate ball again next fall.
``I was a starter last season and had a bunch of catches,’’ he says. ``It was good. Tyler Codron, who plays for the Portland Lumberjax, was one of my teammates.’’
Which sport does he like most?
``Tough question,’’ he replies. ``I think I like lacrosse more, but I definitely enjoy playing football.’’
In school, Johnson is working towards a degree in psychology.
``I’m good at it,’’ he says. ``I enjoy learning about social psychology, especially, and social dynamics and what people think.’’
On the HP Pavilion floor, he’s like a kid in a candy store.
``I love it,’’ he says. ``It’s a great situation for me. I get to play with the best players in the world so I feel honored and spoiled at the same time.’’
What he wants most this week is to feel satisfied after the Stealth play the visiting Edmonton Rush on Saturday.
``It’s a must win for us,’’ says Johnson. ``We’re going to come out hungrier than ever.’’
Asked to name opponents who have most impressed him, he mentions Boston’s Dan Dawson and Philadelphia’s Athan Iannucci. Both were all-stars this season and Johnson would one day like to join their ranks. He certainly has the potential.
Meanwhile, Johnson and every other NLL player hopes for the big breakthrough that will raise the league’s profile.
``I’ve always thought we needed that big corporate sponsorship to score a long-term TV deal,’’ he says.
It is not for lack of effort by the players that it hasn’t happened yet. If it eventually does, young guns such as Tom Johnson will be the ones to make it work.