Perseverance is hard. Especially if you’re in the midst of a storm. To keep focused on a goal through adversity can be extremely difficult. But it also can be extremely rewarding.
D’Ernest Johnson is a running back for the Cleveland Browns. This past season he had a game where he rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown to help his team win a game. By comparison, elite running backs in the NFL reach 100 yards only a few times a year. Johnson carried the team to a huge victory. But what you may not know, is what it took for him to get there.
There’s always a back story
Johnson was not drafted out of college. His dream was to play in the NFL, but he didn’t make it. To make ends meet, he spent the following three years working on a fishing boat in Florida to pay the bills and kept working out in the hopes that he could make a team. During that dry season, an alternate professional football league was created that lasted only a year. Johnson made one of those teams and made the most of a shortened single season by shining brightly. The league went bankrupt. It was back to Florida. The following year in 2019, he tried out and made the Browns 52-man roster as a special teams/kick returner. Johnson put his time in with that group and worked hard. Finally in 2021, when the top two running backs on the team suffered injuries, D’Ernest was pressed into service as the featured running back for the Cleveland Browns. Nobody had heard of him or had opportunity to create a game plan against him. He torched one of the best defenses in the NFL and led the team to victory.
When Nobody is Looking
When we watch sporting events or even talent competitions, we usually get to see people at the pinnacle. We get to see them at the top of their game. We get to see D’Ernest Johnson look like a first-ballot hall of famer. But what we didn’t see was his perseverance. We didn’t see his reaction to not being drafted or making any team for a few years. We didn’t see his resolve to work on a fishing boat and still workout to keep hope alive. He made the most of his opportunities and today he stands to renegotiate a longer-term contract with more money and more security for his family.
Johnson, who became a fisherman after he didn’t receive any NFL contract offers following his college career at South Florida, wouldn’t have received his first professional football contract in the Alliance of American Football had it not been for spam-calling Tim Ruskell, the general manager of the Orlando Apollos. Ruskell finally gave in and picked up after several daily calls from Johnson.
Ruskell offered him a workout. Then, a contract.Anthony Poisal, Clevelandbrowns.com
“I got the GM’s number from one of my college teammates,” Johnson told local reporters Thursday. “I just kept calling every day. Every single day.”
Johnson’s short career in the now-defunct AAF led him to Cleveland in 2019, and a few more years of patience — and the same relentless pursuit to keep his football dreams alive — helped him stay on the Browns’ 53-man roster and finally lead him to a start Thursday.
I’m sure there were many times he doubted himself. I’m sure there were dark nights and maybe even some tears. But D’Ernest Johnson kept focused on his goal and even through adversity, rejection and literally years of time in the valley, he emerged. I’ll bet his resolve is much stronger today than in 2017. I’ll bet his belief in being able to overcome obstacles is better than it was five years ago. I’ll even wager to guess today he may even be thankful for those lessons and time in the crucible.
One thing I’m learning in this season of life is to do my best in each moment and be faithful. Sometimes it will being faithful to myself in terms of consistency in what I eat and drink. Sometimes it is faithfulness to my family and friends. Faithfulness and consistency to rest and self-care. Sometimes it will be remaining faithful to people I work with. Sometimes it will be faithful to a goal. Sometimes it will be remaining faithful to a vision for this program.
There is always tension here between living in today’s reality while being hopeful for what is ahead. Some days the best I can muster is simply doing what I know I’m supposed to do in each moment and hope that that it builds on the overall vision. In essence: to be faithful in the little things. D’Ernest Johnson kept his hopes on someday playing in the NFL while he was catching Mahi Mahi in Florida. It’s a great story of perseverance and being faithful to a dream while leaving in the tension of his current reality at the time.
What’s your hope and dream for the future? Stay faithful and persevere.