February 16, 2024

Regina is the right place for Micah Johnson and Micah Mace

An updated story about Micah Johnson cannot be told without referencing contractual and verbal agreements.

First, the business part: Johnson, a premier CFL defensive tackle since 2013, has just signed a new contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

It was a natural fit, considering the presence of newly appointed Head Coach Corey Mace.

Mace and Johnson were cohorts on the Calgary Stampeders’ defensive line for three seasons. After Mace retired as a player in December of 2015, he remained with the Stampeders as their Defensive Line Coach — one of his key players being Johnson.

With Mace coaching, Johnson was named a CFL All-Star in 2016, 2017 and 2018. But the impact extended far beyond the playing field.

Mace’s admiration for Johnson was such that a promise was made at a time when he was eligible to test free agency.

“I told him, if you re-sign, I will name my first-born son after you,’ ” Petra Mace’s proud husband recalled with a chuckle.

“Being newlyweds, we were working through the thought process of starting a family. Micah was a named that we liked.

“I always just thought, ‘I’m going to have a boy first,’ and we had a girl.”

Maleena Mace is now four years old.

“But if you fast forward,” Corey Mace was quick to add, “I stayed true to my word.”

Micah Justice Mace was born on June 28, 2022.

Asked about his son’s namesake, Coach Mace said of Johnson: “I’ve got tremendous love and respect for him as a man before anything else.”

Mace’s presence in Saskatchewan contributed to Johnson’s decision to re-sign with the Roughriders, for whom he had five sacks and 27 defensive tackles while playing in all 18 games last season.

The new deal was announced on Monday, one day after the one-week free-agency negotiation window closed. The formal free-agency period began on Tuesday.

“I’m glad to get it done,” said Johnson, who ultimately reached a deal with Roughriders Vice-President of Football Operations and General Manager Jeremy O’Day.

“Like I was telling J.O., ‘If we can get to a cool number, then that would be fine. I don’t have to get to free agency.’

“It was going down to the wire. We had some good discussions with a couple of teams. There were a couple of teams (on Sunday) that were telling me, ‘Hold on. We’ve got something cooking.’ ”

But he ultimately opted for home cooking — Regina having become the year-around home for Johnson, his wife Saqouya, and their four children (J.C., Micah Jr., Jaxson and Kaleia).

During the seasons that preceded 2023, Johnson was typically separated from his family, which then resided in Tallahassee, Fla.

However, the separation became too much to bear, especially as the kids got older.

“I just wanted to put very, very good and vivid memories in the bank for them,” said Johnson, who turns 36 on June 22.

“I told my family that I can play a couple of more years, easy, and I want to. But if I was going to play anymore, then they were going to be up here or honestly I was going to have to be done.”

As a result, Johnson is staring at snow instead of palm trees in February — without a word of objection or regret.

“I like it here for my kids,” said Johnson, who is appreciative of the unusually mild Saskatchewan winter. “It’s a little slower pace. It’s a little more community oriented.

“Just being in a community that supports football feels a little warmer to me. It’s different from Florida, where we were living and raising a family, and I like the differences. It’s just a good feeling.

“My son had such a good experience playing football. The youth sports programs are great. It’s a good place for the family and a good place to raise kids.

“When you have kids, most of the decisions are about them and about how they’re enjoying things.”

J.C., for example, enjoyed playing in Regina Minor Football’s pee wee ranks with the Bulldogs.

“A lot of times last year, they had games the same day we had games,” Johnson noted. “There were days when I was dropping him off at home after his game and then going right to the stadium. He’d be on the way a couple of hours later with the family to come to my game.

“Experiences like that, you can’t put a price on them.”