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Rams' small linebacker hopes to make it big
Rams' small linebacker hopes to make it big
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Jun. 10 2005
Overdue for something positive to happen in his football career, Louis Ayeni
isn't dismissing his chances of making the Rams' roster.
"I've seen it all, done it all and been through it all," Ayeni said, laughing.
"So nothing surprises me anymore."
Signed June 2 as a free agent, Ayeni is listed at 5 feet 11, 213 pounds, No. 59
and a linebacker. A 213-pound NFL linebacker?
"I just think they want me to make plays," Ayeni said. "I don't really see it
as me being a linebacker or a safety. They just want to get me out there
hitting people and helping the team out the best that I can."
Linebacker is yet another new spot for Ayeni (pronounced eye-YEH-nee), who
started out in 1999 as a running back at Northwestern but later was moved to
wide receiver and then safety. But Ayeni, 24, has had to endure far more than a
succession of position changes.
The first jolt came in his junior year at Woodbury (Minn.) High School, when
one of his teammates died suddenly. "That was really rough on me," said Ayeni,
who nonethless came back the next season and piled up more than 2,000 rushing
He turned down offers from Nebraska of the Big 12 Conference, and Iowa,
Michigan, and Wisconsin of the Big Ten to go to Northwestern. He liked the
academics there, plus the opportunity to play right away.
"I had a lot of high expectations in college," Ayeni said. "I backed up a great
running back, (current Arizona Cardinal) Damien Anderson, as a freshman. Then
after that, it started going downhill."
Shortly after the season, Wildcats coach Gary Barnett left for Colorado. Ayeni
and roommate Chris Brown - now a running back with the Tennessee Titans -
discussed following Barnett, but decided to stay and play for new Northwestern
coach Randy Walker.
Before the 2000 season began, Brown changed his mind and transferred to
Colorado. Ayeni stayed at Northwestern, and Walker asked him to switch to
wideout. The idea was to get him and Anderson in the lineup together.
But that notion was scuttled when a succession of injuries began. A stress
fracture in his hip kept Ayeni sidelined for the first half of the year, and
his season ended with a far more serious injury. While returning a punt at the
Alamo Bowl, he broke a bone in his lower leg and shredded three tendons in his
During the year that Ayeni spent recovering - he missed the entire 2001 season
- another teammate and close friend died unexpectedly. Safety Rashidi Wheeler
collapsed at a summer practice and couldn't be revived.
"The deaths hurt me a lot. They make you question what you're doing," Ayeni
told a reporter from the school's student newspaper.
Ayeni's career resumed in the spring of 2002, but another injury - a broken
finger - set him back again. He wound up as a running back on the scout team, a
move he called "a slap in the face."
Yet he came back for his fifth season, even though he'd completed his
communications degree. This time, he was a safety who quickly built a
reputation as a fierce hitter. He started Nothwestern's first four games before
a shoulder injury ended his college career.
Ayeni's strength (he can bench-press 400 pounds), sub- 4.5-second 40 speed and
39-inch vertical jump intrigued some NFL scouts, and he signed with
Indianapolis last year as an undrafted rookie. But because he wasn't healthy
yet, he never got on the field and was released early in training camp.
He kept rehabbing and hoping, he said, until the Rams called. Ayeni
participated in the full-squad minicamp June 3-5 and will continue with the
rookies and a handful of other young players in organized team activities next
Training camp begins July 28 at Rams Park. Beyond that, who knows? But the
much-scarred Ayeni is taking a philosophical approach.
"It's a blessing to still be playing and to get this opportunity," he said.
"I'm just excited to be here . . . real fired up. There's a reason I'm still
playing, (and that's) because I have a lot of ability. It's just about me
staying healthy and letting the ability come out.
"All that misfortune builds character. But I'm hoping that nothing will happen
Re: Rams' small linebacker hopes to make it big
it will be very tough for him but good luck to him.