UCLA football: Akeem Ayers inspired to prove 'doubters wrong'
Ayers was projected as a first-round pick when he declared early for the NFL draft after last season, but he had to wait until the second round Friday, when Tennessee Titans made him the 39th player selected overall.
Ayers had already left New York by that time, deciding to return to Los Angeles after the first round was finished Thursday. He received the call from the Titans while riding home from the airport.
“It’s a greater feeling when you answer the phone and don’t know who it is,” Ayers said. “I just thought it was best at the time to come back home and have all my family there.”
Dropping into the second round will cost Ayers money on his initial contract, but he said: “It makes me more excited to play, just to prove the doubters that they were wrong. It’s a lot of fuel to work harder.”
Ayers, at 6 feet 1, 255 pounds, has the athletic ability to produce momentum-shifting plays. But he hasn’t always followed the defensive scheme, choosing instead to freelance. NFL scouts' concerns were heightened after Ayers’ poor showing at the NFL combine, where he was clocked at 4.8 in the 40.
“I couldn’t do much more about it this week,” Ayers said. “I put in all the work and done everything I could possibly do.”
Ayers big-play ability was finally too tantalizing to ignore. Ayers was third in the Butkus Award voting last season after finishing with four sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recovering despite being slowed by shoulder and toe injuries. As a junior, Ayers had six sacks, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He also scored three touchdowns.
Ayers will be reunited with cornerback Alterraun Verner, a UCLA teammate who was drafted by the Titans a year ago.
“I just texted him when I found out, I’ll give him a call later,” Ayers said. “It helps that I’ll be with someone from the same background. We both grew up in Los Angeles and experienced the same college. He has played there [with the Titans]. It can help me mentally.”
-- Chris Foster
Photo: UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers in pass coverage. Credit: John Rieger / US Presswire