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Toothpicks offer calm, tranquillity for Argos veteran linebacker Wynton McManis

It's as much a part of Wynton McManis as his infectious smile and gregarious nature. No matter where the Toronto Argonauts veteran linebacker goes, he always has a toothpick. If it's not in his mouth, it's often tucked behind his ear.
Toronto Argonauts linebacker Wynton McManis (48) celebrates during a break in play against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during CFL action in Toronto on Friday, August 26, 2022. It's as much a part of McManis as his infectious laugh and fun-loving personality. No matter where the veteran linebacker goes, he'll always have a toothpick. If it's not in his mouth, it can usually be found tucked behind his ear. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

It's as much a part of Wynton McManis as his infectious smile and gregarious nature.

No matter where the Toronto Argonauts veteran linebacker goes, he always has a toothpick. If it's not in his mouth, it's often tucked behind his ear.

Some might think it's to look cool, but McManis says a toothpick provides comfort and tranquillity.

"I'm an outgoing, fun-loving, active guy and I think when I was younger that got me into trouble," said McManis. "I have pictures of me eight, nine years old with a toothpick in my mouth and it just allows me to slow things down.

"Instead of talking or moving around 1,000 miles a minute I can have the toothpick in my mouth, move it around and it kind of keeps me calm, it's like my peace point. It's not for esthetics . . . it's part of who I am."

McManis isn't alone.

Dusty Baker, the former big-league baseball player and manager, routinely had a toothpick in his mouth in the dugout. At first it was because his father always had one but later it replaced chewing tobacco, which Baker used as a player.

Last year, retired MMA fighter Benson (Smooth) Henderson admitted he sometimes fought with a toothpick hidden in his mouth. He was spotted with one during his 2012 UFC title defence against Nate Diaz, something Henderson neither confirmed nor denied afterwards.

McManis prefers flavoured toothpicks — he was sporting a cinnamon seasoning while talking with The Canadian Press. The 29-year-old has become good at manoeuvering them.

"I can flip it around, spin it," he said with a chuckle. "I've had a couple of (accidents) but none that I'd call life-threatening."

About the only time McManis isn't chewing on a toothpick is when he's playing football. On the field, the six-foot-one, 225-pound Memphis native is all business.

McManis has been a league all-star the last two seasons with Toronto. He began his CFL career with Calgary (2017-19) and has 271 defensive tackles, 49 special-teams tackles, 11 sacks, six interceptions and three forced fumbles in 75 regular-season contests.

McManis is two-time Grey Cup champion and also spent time in the NFL with San Francisco (2016), New Orleans (2020-21) and Miami (2021).

He helped Toronto win a club-record 16 regular-season games in 2023. But the promising campaign ended with a 38-17 East final loss to eventual Grey Cup-champion Montreal.

"You don't forget games like that," McManis said. "It doesn't matter what you did before, who you beat, how many points you beat them by or how many times you beat them.

"You must beat them this time and be your best in that moment. I think last year we kind of fell victim to just assuming we'd win."

The off-season has been tough for the Argos. Not only did they lose defensive co-ordinator Corey Mace (Saskatchewan head coach) but also running back A.J. Ouellette (Riders), linebackers Adarius Pickett (Ottawa) and Canadian Jordan Williams (traded, Hamilton), kick-returner Javon Leake (Edmonton) and cornerback Jamal Peters (Tiger-Cats), to name a few.

But McManis signed an extension with Toronto in January.

"I feel I'm just starting to get my feet wet and become a player my teammates can rely on, the fans can enjoy coming to see and be someone you know what you're going to get every time I hit the field," McManis said. "I didn't want to walk away from that.

"I like what we've built, I like where we're going. I just love the city of Toronto."

This off-season, McManis and his fiancée welcomed their second child, a daughter. They also have a son under the age of two.

"(Fatherhood) opens your eyes that there's more to life than just yourself," McManis said. "It has really made me find that balance between who I am and becoming a man and understanding there's more than just you here and much more to life.

"I spend much less time on my phone scrolling and more playing with my son because when he calls my name, he doesn't want anything more than some attention. Any time I can do that and put a smile on his face, I choose to."

McManis admits he's become a girl dad.

"I'm already soft on her," McManis said. "Any time she cries or makes a sound, I'm like, 'It's OK, it's OK.'"

But fatherhood hasn't changed McManis's fun-loving, outgoing personality. Last week during the CFL's content shoots in Hamilton, McManis's arrival was heard long before he was actually seen.

"That's the way I was brought up," he said. "Life is short . . . we're all human, we're all learning, we're all going through this thing together and just taking different paths.

"I'm myself, I just try to leave people with a good feeling everywhere I go."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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