The Rams moving to Los Angeles will be a homecoming for six-year veteran linebacker Akeem Ayers. Before spending the beginning of his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans, the Los Angeles native played for UCLA and Verbum Dei high school.
After playing for the New England Patriots during their Super Bowl championship run, Ayers signed a free agent contract with the Rams in March 2015.
The Los Angeles native started playing for the Verbum Dei Eagles the same year the school revamped their football program. The team developed to a contending squad quickly and achieved a CIF championship by Ayer’s senior year.
“To win the CIF championship my last year after pretty much building [and] being a part of the program, it was great for the school,” Ayers said.
Although the eagles had to learn about teams through experience, the talent of Ayers and his peers would become noteworthy beyond Verbum Dei.
“We got so many athletes on my team that we all just came together at one time,” Ayers said. “We started to win a lot of games and people started to know about us and other teams started to know about us.”
In 2007, Ayers became a UCLA Bruin, but would not play until his sophomore year. Many family members were fans of UCLA, according to Ayers.
“[UCLA] was almost like a part of me already but I really didn’t notice it,” he said. “It was close enough to home, yet it was far enough away from home.”
He debuted on special teams in their season opening game against the Tennessee Volunteers. Out the 12 games he played, Ayers was a starting strongside linebacker for three games.
At the end of the season, he became the defensive co-winner of UCLA’s John Boncheff, Jr. memorial Rookie of the Year award. During his career, Ayers was named on the Phil Steele All-American second-team and the All-Pac-10 first team.
For Ayers, the rivalry between USC and UCLA is the best in college football.
“On the week of the game, we have a huge bonfire. All the students are out,” Ayers said.
He recalls how UCLA students would protect Bruin Bear, the prominent statue of the school’s mascot during the rivalry week.
“we put our bear in a protection box type thing. Technically the bear is hibernating,” Ayers said. “I remember one year, I think it was my second year… they came and dumped yellow and gold paint all over the bear.”
In 2011, Ayers was the 39th pick in the second round of the NFL draft and was acquired by the Tennessee Titans.
Ayers spent four years playing with the Titans. During his rookie season, he collected 88 tackles, the second highest total for a rookie of the franchise since 1999. Ayers started in 14 out of 16 games by his second year, earning 110 tackles and six sacks. Although he was successful early in his career, it took Ayers some time to adjust to living in a new city.
“It’s a new transition because L.A. and Nashville, Tennessee are two completely different places,” Ayers said.
Midway through the 2014 season, Ayers was traded to New England where he made three special teams tackles and sacked quarterback Payton Manning.
The city of St. Louis reminded Ayers of Nashville. Although Ayers only spent six months in St. Louis, he appreciated the sightseeing spots and restaurants in the city.
“The food is good out there,” he said. “They have some good barbeque places, they have some good Italian food places.”