Former NFLer Wynton McManis on flow and freedom in the CFL
By Sarah Said
Wynton McManis says he aims to be like water — flowing with and not against whatever challenges or opportunities come his way.
“I feel like everything is what it is,” he said. “You just got to be able to roll with the punches, just control what you can control.”
But for the Memphis-born Toronto Argonauts linebacker, going with the flow doesn’t mean he’s not in charge. In fact, charging is exactly what he enjoys most.
“You know, it kind of sounds bad, but I fell in love with hitting people,” he laughed. “Within the confines of the sport, of course. It’s just like a release of energy.”
He explains that it feels cathartic, like a big scream — one that allows you to release some things you might have bottled up for a while.
“People be like, ‘What about if you get hurt?’ and that's not in your mind at the time. You won't feel it with the adrenaline.”
Currently tied for first in the league with Saskatchewan’s Darnell Sankey in total tackles this season, McManis says that playing the sport wasn’t something he ever doubted, regardless of its physicality. He says football chose him — not the other way around.
“I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “I'm good at a lot of things. You can't be great at everything and I feel like football is probably the sport that I just had the best chance of being great at.”
That said, his career path hasn’t always been straightforward.
“I really should be a quarterback,” he laughed. “Mac, Chad, everybody, y’all be on the lookout.”
It was one of the two positions McManis grew up playing, in addition to linebacker, during his time at Olive Branch High School in Mississippi.
“I'm like a natural leader, so both positions just kind of fit and fell into my hands.”
And even though he says there is still a tiny voice in the back of his mind wondering what would have happened if he would have stayed at it, he has no regrets. And he feels the same way about deciding to join the CFL after being waived by the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in 2017.
“People kind of said that I rushed into my decision to come to the CFL at first,” he said. “I didn't want to sit around and wait on teams, so I felt like making the move myself. And then to make them [NFL teams] want to come to get me.”
But like water, McManis quickly adapted to what was around him. Which in this case, meant transforming into a Calgary Stampeder for three years, winning the 106th Grey Cup with the Horsemen back in 2018.
“Going from NFL to CFL is good,” he said. “The CFL gives me freedom, but not freedom as in to do what I want to do. Freedom as in, it's a chance for you to try something new.”
He says that the freedom he is speaking about isn’t solely related to football.
“The CFL allows me to experiment with my game and with foods, with people, with different environments and weather, different cultures, and all types of things.”
And though he enjoyed his time in Calgary, McManis chose to opt out of his contract with the Stampeders after the CFL cancelled the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was signed by the New Orleans Saints. Then in 2021, he was signed to the Miami Dolphins practice squad and eventually made it back to Canada in 2022 with the Toronto Argonauts.
When I asked him if it mattered to him which league he ultimately ended up in, he did not hesitate with an answer.
“I’m gonna be a Hall of Famer no matter which league I’m in,” he said. “I'm not chasing the NFL, I know I could play there. I know I could play anywhere, honestly. I just love playing football.”
For him, all that matters is he’s taking it one step at a time. One play at a time. One wave at a time.
“See a little, see a lot. You see a lot, you see nothing,” he said. “It could apply to whatever it is that you're doing. If you just look at the whole thing, you'll get overwhelmed. Get the little things together and work piece by piece.”