Versatile Bruin Akeem Ayers Is Ready For The Big Time
- Video: Ayers Say Thanks To UCLA Fans
By Brian Price
Akeem Ayers' six-foot-three, 254-pound body is that of a man, but the look of awe on his face was like a kid taking the field for the first time.
"It's been a long road," he says quietly as he tours Radio City Music Hall with other likely first round picks the day before the NFL draft was set to commence.
Ayers, raised by a single mother in South Compton, Los Angeles, probably never imagined he'd be less than a day away from becoming a part of an NFL franchise.
But here he is, amongst the country's best, awaiting his destiny.
"I'm just hoping to get drafted by a team with a [defensive scheme] that I can contribute to," says Ayers.
Given the number of NFL teams that use a hybrid defense - combination of the 3-4 and a 4-3 - there will likely be many suitors. He credits his playing days as a Bruin for teaching him how to be effective in a variety of sets.
"At UCLA we were 4-3 [defensive] team, and I was primarily a [strong side] linebacker," he says. "Gradually, I moved to defensive end and got more opportunities to be a pass rusher. I would also have a designated assignment in man defense to [guard] a tight end or running back."
UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel describes Ayers as a lethal balance of speed and instincts that will translate at the professional ranks.
"Akeem is a bona fide pass rusher at any level," the third-year head coach says. "He has great size, speed, counter moves and strength that will enable him to step right in and play."
Ayers' ability to get in the backfield and pressure the quarterback has been evident throughout his career. During his time at UCLA, he recorded 14 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss.
"I'm a versatile linebacker. Whether it's playing defensive end, coming off the edge, and pressuring the quarterback on third down passing situations or dropping back into [man] coverage, I can do it," Ayers says. "Either way I'm effective and could help a number of different NFL [teams]. I'm ready to step in any way I can."
Ayers started 28 games at UCLA as a 4-3 strong side, or sam, linebacker, but also effectively lined up on third down as an edge rusher. In a 3-4 defense, he dropped back into coverage.
According to Neuheisel: "He also is very instinctive as a pass dropper and possesses a keen ability to read the QB's eyes. He also has great quickness to make a jump on the ball and prevent the completion."
Ayers, a natural born leader, was named a captain as a junior, started all 12 games in 2010, and was named a second-team All-American in what would be his final season as a Bruin.
Anticipating being a rookie at the pro level, he's aware what it will take to earn his new teammates' respect.
"On every play I'm going to be looking to earn my stripes and learn from the veterans around me. It'll take hard work, but I'm ready to demonstrate my dedication and never take any moment for granted. When it comes to playing football, I take it very seriously."
According to Neuheisel, Ayers never missed a day of practice and never took a play off.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood, Ayers always appreciated the stability of family off the field.
"I may have [grown up] with negative things around me, but I could always depend on my mom and aunts and uncles to help me out. I went to UCLA to stay close to home and to my family and, now, to have them here in New York with me is a dream come true."
So beyond versatility, what can Ayers' new team come to expect from him?
"A hard working player who will constantly improve in the years to come," Ayers says.
In a few short hours, after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calls his name, he'll have a whole new family to call his own.
The first round of the NFL draft begins at 5:00 p.m. PT live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
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