THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – It's been a common refrain whenever a Rams player gets asked about cornerback Darious Williams' 2020 success.
"We're not surprised," they will say.
Neither is Williams.
Guided by unwavering faith, his patience over the last two years and beyond is being rewarded with a breakout third season.
"It's not a surprise," Williams said during a video conference Friday. "I've been making plays for awhile now, just never able to put it on the field. Obviously we had all the talent in the world here with (Marcus) Peters and (Aqib) Talib, guys like that. It's finally starting to show now."
Williams' path to the Rams hasn't been entirely unconventional. However, while he is not the first undrafted rookie to ascend to stardom, a fair argument could be made the route itself is one not every player has taken.
He initially began his college career at Division III Marietta College in Ohio in 2011, before returning home for family reasons, according to a December 2017 story from 247Sports. Two years later, he enrolled at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) looking to resume his college career, but had to try out as a walk-on twice to do so. According to a December 2017 story by The Athletic's Matt Fortuna, he was cut during walk-on tryouts by then-head coach Garrick McGee in 2013 before making the team in 2014 under new head coach Bill Clark.
Then, after a successful 2014 season in which recorded 23 tackles, one interception and six pass breakups starting in five of 12 games – and earned a scholarship halfway through the season – UAB shuttered its football program. The decision was announced on December 2, 2014 – three days after a 45-24 win at Southern Mississippi clinched a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility for the Blazers for the first time since 2004.
While UAB reversed course and reinstated the program six months later, the program wouldn't actually play a season for another two years. Williams filled some of that time delivering flowers for an ACE Hardware store for a handful of months. He also had offers from Southern Miss, Troy and South Alabama following that 2014 season to continue his college career uninterrupted, but chose to remain with UAB.
In UAB's first season back in 2017, Williams was a Pro Football Focus First Team All-American and earned First Team All-Conference USA recognition after tying for fourth in the nation in interceptions (five), a figure which also led the conference. He also had a Conference USA-high 15 pass breakups while starting in all 13 games.
Yet even with that production and corresponding accolades, Williams went undrafted in 2018. Still, he was undeterred by the obstacle.
"I mean, I'm a big faith guy," Williams said. "I'm real big in God and all that, so that never once crossed my mind. Like, never. I always have faith that something's going to happen, and I never get caught up in, if a door closes or a door looks like it freezes, that that's the end of it. I just always know it's something that's opening, there's something that's coming, and that's how it always was. From UAB, to possibly going undrafted, then going undrafted, all that never really fazed me because I always knew I was going to have a shot."
He did get that shot, but much like his time in college, it would require him to lean on that same patience and faith.
The Ravens were the first team to give him a chance, signing him as an undrafted free agent. They waived him after three games, but it wouldn't take him long to find another opportunity: Two days after being waived Baltimore, he was claimed by the Los Angeles Rams.
There was just one problem, though: As Williams noted earlier, L.A. already had an established and experienced cornerback tandem in Peters and Talib. Behind those third-year and 10-year veterans respectively were fifth-year pro Nickell Robey-Coleman and third-year pro Troy Hill.
Consequently, Williams appeared in just one game in his first season with the Rams. However, just like he did before, he remained faithful his time would come, continuing to put in the work and prove himself. Rams head coach Sean McVay took notice during the team's practices in the second half of that 2018 season.
"He was locking our guys down going back to the '18 season, where he was on scout team," McVay said during a video conference Friday. "You'd almost have to tell him, 'Hey, take it easy, man. You're going to shake our confidence going into this game.'"
A year later, he caught wide receiver Robert Woods' attention.