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Cleveland Browns RB D'Ernest Johnson talks perseverance on NBC's 'Today'

Johnson, a former undrafted free agent, emerged as one of Cleveland's top offensive contributors this past season.

CLEVELAND — During the 2021 NFL season, D'Ernest Johnson was unexpectedly featured as a key component of the Cleveland Browns' offense. On Friday, he'll be featured on television screens across America to tell more of his story.

Johnson was recently interviewed by NBC's Today crew to talk about his life and perseverance in his career. The full segment aired during the fourth hour of the program hosted by Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager.

The road to the NFL has not been an easy one for Johnson. After going undrafted in 2018 out of USF, the running back had a young son to care for, so he took a job as a fisherman reeling in Mahi Mahi in Key West.

"It wasn't easy at all," Johnson said in the interview. "The biggest one I caught was, like, almost the size of me and stuff. So it was a pretty big fish, and I'm like, 'Man, this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life.'"

Searching for a way back to the sport he loved, Johnson signed on with the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football in the winter of 2019. Though the startup league folded before its first season could be completed, he impressed enough to earn a contract from the Browns, though he saw limited playing time his first two years and was constantly on the roster bubble.

But in 2021, the Johnson finally began to crack the lineup. The 25-year-old was Cleveland's second leading rusher with 534 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and scored three touchdowns. His true coming-out party came in a Week 7 "Thursday Night Football" clash against the Denver Broncos when, with the Browns decimated by injuries, he tallied 146 yards and a score in a 17-14 win.

Credit: Ron Schwane/AP
Cleveland Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson (30) rushes during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland.

"My goal was to always to make it to the NFL," Johnson said. "No matter how many doors [were] closed I've got to find a way just to go out there and make it happen."

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