From fishing boat to football star: 3rd-string running back is Cleveland Browns hero after ‘outstanding’ night

NFL

Inside linebacker Justin Strnad #40 of the Denver Broncos tackles running back D’Ernest Johnson #30 of the Cleveland Browns in the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 21, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – Three years ago, D’Ernest Johnson wasn’t in the NFL. He was working on a fishing boat to pay the bills.

Three days ago, no one had heard of him.

But Thursday night, the 3rd-string running back got his chance in primetime.

“You could tell after that game that he’d been waiting for that moment,” said former Cleveland Browns running back Greg Pruitt.

“We might have lost that game without that performance that we had from him.”

On a night when the stars and starters sat on the sidelines, a man who waited a long time for his shot finally got it. Johnson rushed for 146-yards and a touchdown in the Cleveland Browns’ (4-3) 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos (3-4) on Thursday.

“Coming from a fishing boat, I always dreamed of playing in the NFL. Even when playing in the AAF, I always dreamed of playing here in the league,” Johnson said after the game. “Being able to be on this team is a blessing. It is always a dream come true to be able to be here. To be able start and come out here and help the team win, that is the best feeling.”

Cleveland fans may have been feeling a bit down, missing running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and quarterback Baker Mayfield. But in the locker room, that wasn’t the story.

“They basically told me to just be me. Do not change anything and just be me. Continue to do what I do and do not change anything,” Johnson said.

For a player like Johnson, who may have been seen as an underdog, there isn’t a much better fit than a team like the Browns.

“We thought we had two of the best (running backs),” said Pruitt. “We might have three of the best.”

When Johnson reached the end zone, he was in disbelief of how far he’d come.

“I wanted to celebrate, but I did not know what to do. I just yelled because it has been a long journey, man. To get your first start and get 100 yards and your first touchdown, that ain’t nothing but God,” he said.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski celebrated Johnson’s night following the win.

“D’Ernest Johnson to me is a warrior and a great teammate. What he has fought through in his career and then to go have a night like that and to end it how he did on that this down, I thought was just outstanding,” Stefanski said.

Veteran backup quarterback Case Keenum, who managed things on the field while quarterback Baker Mayfield was on the sidelines, raved about Johnson after the game, calling him a guy “who the locker room and everybody loves.”

“Just a good overall person … [to] come in here and having an incredible night like that and make some big-time plays for us on a national stage,” Keenum said.

Johnson and the Browns will next division rivals the Pittsburg Steelers (3-3) on Oct. 31.

Johnson’s advice? Trust the process.

“You have to trust the process no matter what you are going through. You have to believe in yourself and trust God.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

NBA Stats

Trending Stories

WAVY Twitter Widget

***Don’t Miss Module Removal CSS***

WAVY Facebook