Football player from SWFL makes NFL debut

Reporter: Zach Oliveri Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
D'Ernest Johnson
Credit: NFL Network

A man from Southwest Florida has fulfilled his football dream of going pro. D’Ernest Johnson is a graduate of Immokalee High School and, on Thursday, he made his first NFL start.

Johnson scored his first touchdown on Thursday and helped his team, the Cleveland Browns, defeat the Denver Broncos. However, making it to the NFL hasn’t been an easy journey.

Just three years ago, D’Ernest Johnson couldn’t have been farther away from the National Football League. At that time, no one wanted him to play football, so he took a job on a  fishing boat in the Keys. But he never gave up on his dream.

So, he kept pushing and got a chance. Last night, the world saw him make the most of the chance.

Jonhson always dreamed he’d take the handoff, break three tackles and fall forward into the end zone.

Now, D’Ernest Jonhson has become the NFL’s overnight sensation. So, when he scored, he let all those years’ worth of hard work and frustration come out. “I wanted to celebrate but I didn’t know what to do man. I just yelled cause it’s been a long journey, man,” said Jonhson.

That journey began at Immokalee High School where Rich Dombroski was his coach. “He knew he had to separate himself somehow and putting the extra work in and you know he was never one to shy away from that,” said Dombroski.

D’Ernest worked hard at Immokalee High school, he worked even harder at USF but, the NFL still wasn’t interested. He went undrafted.

That’s when he went to the Florida Keys and found a job on a fishing boat catching Mahi-mahi. But, he says, football was always in the back of his mind.

The Alliance of American Football was his ticket to getting back on the field. “He has a passion. He knew if he was given the opportunity, he would prove somebody right. You know you’re going to make a great choice by putting me on your team,” said Dombroski.

The AAF has since gone bankrupt but, the Cleveland Browns saw enough to give D’Ernest a chance. It paid off on Thursday night as he helped lead the Browns to victory over the Broncos.

“I think we know who’s getting the game ball after this one”

After the game, Jonhson wore a shirt that said “trust the process” which seemed appropriate for someone who never stopped believing in himself. “I never lost trust in the process you know. Coming from you know the fishing boat you know I always dreamed of playing in the NFL,” said Jonhson.

Johnson got to play on Thursday because both the first and second-string running backs were hurt. They proved to be his biggest supporters that night. Johnson says both of them told him to be himself because that’s what got him where he is.

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