clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How Rasul Douglas Finally Got His Chance to Show Up and Show Out

When the Packers signed Douglas off the Cardinals’ practice squad in October, he had no idea what was in store for him. Three months later, his team has the no. 1 seed in the NFC—and he’s a major reason.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Everything Rasul Douglas wanted seemed out of reach. He had just signed on to become a member of the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, and his NFL career to that point had been anything but stable. The cornerback had previously spent three seasons with the Eagles, helping them win Super Bowl LII in 2018, but the team waived him during final roster cuts in September 2020.

He spent the next season with the Panthers, finishing with a career-high 62 tackles (50 solo) and nine pass breakups, but was released after the season. Then the Raiders cut him. Then the Texans—a mere six days after they signed him in late August 2021.

His next stop was the Cardinals, and he tried to stay optimistic about his chances to make it to the big team. But early on in his stint there, a security guard at the practice facility stopped him. The guard didn’t recognize him and wouldn’t let him into the building.

“Nah, I play here,” Douglas said, flashing his team-issued iPad.

“Oh, well, we have to ask,” the guard said. The guard called another security guard, who similarly couldn’t place the name. Ultimately, they had to track down a coach to confirm that Douglas was indeed on the roster.

It was a humiliating experience—and a painful one. This was Douglas’s fifth team in a year, and security didn’t even know his name. He was working his hardest to stick—waiting and hoping that someone would see him. Believe in him. Give him a legitimate chance. “I felt like I wasn’t on the team,” Douglas says of his time with the Cardinals.

Douglas didn’t fault the security guard that afternoon. But the ordeal still infuriated him. “That moment forever changed me,” he says. “I was pissed off, ever since then.” Douglas became more determined than ever to prove that he belonged. Even though, as a practice squad member, he knew he wasn’t going to get in the game, he’d prepare as if he was—studying film, jotting down notes, creating full scouting reports of opponents. He kept working. Kept believing his time would come. And eventually, it did—in the form of a phone call from the Packers.

By early October, Green Bay’s secondary had been decimated—most notably by the loss of All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander to a shoulder injury. So on October 6, the team signed Douglas to be part of a crew of reinforcements. Douglas tempered his expectations: “I never thought I was gonna play or anything,” he says.

But even while he tried to stay within himself, he turned to a phrase his aunt, Tish Williams, has said to him since he was a child: “Show up and show out.”

And this season, when his name has been called, he’s done exactly that.

SPORTS-FBN-BEARS-PACKERS-5-TB
Douglas returns an interception for a touchdown against the Bears in December
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

For four years before he got to Green Bay, Douglas had been living snap to snap, contract to contract, city to city, trusting that God had a plan for him even if things seemed murky. He had no idea what was in store for him with the Packers, either: All he knew was that he had to quickly learn Green Bay’s playbook. Which wasn’t easy.

“He wasn’t here very long before he was thrust into action,” says Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. “And when he did, he was prepared.”

Just 11 days after Douglas signed, the Packers played the Bears in Chicago. The team struggled in the first quarter—especially the defense, which was trying to find its footing without Alexander—and eventually, the coaches turned to Douglas. “It was like, OK, well, let’s see what Rasul can do,” says Jerry Gray, the Packers defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator.

Douglas subbed in, and he went on to play 85 percent of the defensive snaps in that game, totaling five tackles and performing well enough to earn the starting nod the next three games. That included a matchup with the Washington Football Team, against whom he forced a fumble, and a matchup with the Cardinals, during which he made arguably the biggest play of his career: an interception in the end zone to seal a 24-21 victory.

Douglas could have badmouthed his former club after the game, but instead he said even he was surprised he made the play—his first real game-winning moment—and chose to break down the intricacies of what he was seeing on the field. Now, reflecting on the moment, he says the joy of delivering when his team needed him felt good. And it’s continued to feel good as he’s made clutch play after clutch play across the back half of the season.

In a Week 12 game against the Rams, Douglas picked off Matthew Stafford and ran it back for a touchdown in Green Bay’s 36-28 win. Then in the Packers’ next game, against the Bears, he had another pick-six, this one a 55-yarder in a 45-30 win. The last time a Packers player had pick-sixes in back-to-back games was in 1965.

“He earned the respect of everybody in the locker room,” says Packers safety Adrian Amos Jr.

Part of that respect comes from Douglas’s willingness to do whatever is asked of him. Contributing on special teams? Sure. Making big tackles? Of course. He’s up for anything—even though he’s tied for fourth in the NFL with five interceptions on the season.

“He’s been huge. Rasul, he is a competitor,” LaFleur says. “And it shows up every day in practice. I love how he prepares. He goes out there and I mean, he competes on every snap, and he challenges whoever he’s going up against.

“He elevates the play of really everybody around him,” LaFleur says, adding, “Rasul’s a guy that you definitely don’t want to take off the field.”

Measuring 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, Douglas is a corner with tremendous length and strength. But he doesn’t just rely on his physical skills. He pays close attention to detail—so in tune with receiver splits that he can quickly anticipate what’s coming. The way he runs and changes direction, at his size, is unique. “I call him Cyborg,” says Blue Adams, Douglas’s former cornerbacks coach at West Virginia. “I think he was made in a lab.”

Douglas’s ascent is remarkably on time. He helped hold the team together through the loss of some of its best players to injury; form a solid defensive unit; and earn the no. 1 seed in the NFC. Now the Packers’ postseason begins with a divisional-round matchup against the 49ers—one that Alexander is expected to be back for. But Douglas will still play an important role for Green Bay, and he’s focused on one thing going into this weekend: continuing to raise his level of play.

Every day before practice, Douglas thinks to himself: get better. He writes something down that he wants to improve to hold himself accountable. “I’m still hungry,” Douglas says. Sometimes he’s shown up to the facility to meet Gray at 6:15 a.m., before Gray’s 7 a.m. staff meeting. On days the team practices between 1 and 3 p.m., Douglas has stayed until 7 or 7:30, watching film. “To stick around that late when almost all the other players are gone, is remarkable,” Gray says.

Douglas still remembers what it felt like to have zero college scholarship offers as a senior in high school. What it felt like to have so little money while playing for Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York, that some nights he went without food. One night, his debit card was declined at McDonald’s when he tried to purchase a $1.09 McChicken sandwich.

And he remembers what it felt like to have those closest to him disappear. He understands how fleeting life is, how little control one has. So he continues to work as if his spot on the Packers, as if his chance at another Super Bowl ring, could disappear at any moment, too.

Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers
Douglas during a game against the Rams in November
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

As a child, Douglas learned not to take things for granted. His grandmother, Carletta Williams, raised him and his six siblings by herself in a three-bedroom apartment in East Orange, New Jersey, and Rasul could see the sacrifices she made: the long shifts she worked at the local hospital; the lengths she went to in order to keep all the kids clothed; the effort that went into always preparing a hot meal, putting her soul into everything she cooked, especially her mac and cheese. “She just always made a way for everybody,” says Tish, Carletta’s daughter.

After school, Carletta expected all the kids to be home by 3:30 p.m. sharp. She wanted them to stay focused, to stay away from what Douglas often saw outside: drug sales, gangs, gun violence. No matter how fraught things seemed, the 11- or 12-year-old Rasul would reassure his grandmother: “I’mma get us out of here,” he’d tell her. “We not gonna be here forever.”

He didn’t know how he was going to lift his family, but he knew that he would keep God first. His grandmother made sure of that. “She’s the reason why I really kind of wanted better for myself,” he says. Williams was many things to Rasul: grandmother, mother, best friend. His inspiration.

So Rasul focused on what he could control: attending services at church every Sunday, completing his weekly house-cleaning chores. When he saw a neighbor arriving home with groceries, he and his siblings would run toward the car and help carry the bags to the doorstep. They learned to be grateful for what they did have, rather than to dwell on what they didn’t. “Tough times make tough people. It definitely helped us,” Douglas says. “It could have been easier, and then maybe I wouldn’t appreciate anything in life. Or maybe I would think I’d be entitled to everything in life.”

Douglas began playing nearly every sport he could: basketball, baseball, football, even bowling. One of his youth coaches, Michael Davis, was something of a father figure for Rasul. He was always encouraging him. And because he worked for the city of East Orange’s recreational department, Davis occasionally received New Jersey Nets tickets, and would often take Rasul.

Rasul had played football since he was a kid, but at the time, his real love was basketball. He ditched football practice to play summer league basketball—even though he’d made varsity in football as a junior. But eventually his football coach, Marion Bell, told him that if he put in more time, he could have a future in football. “It just came so easy for him,” Bell says. “With his length, he stood out more than everybody else.”

Bell grew up about seven blocks from Rasul. He understood how few options existed for kids like Rasul. How Rasul had to constantly be on alert. “In that community, it’s just unwritten: you just do what you have to do to survive,” Bell says.

Rasul listened to Bell and began taking football more seriously. He flourished at defensive back, and schools that came to see him liked his size. But Bell says many were hesitant to continue scouting him because of Rasul’s grades. So Bell called Curtis Guilliam, the coach at Nassau Community College, and told him he thought Rasul was a Division I player. Once Guilliam saw Douglas play, he agreed.

Douglas, however, was unsure of his own future. “I’m like in a no-man’s-land of what I’m going to do,” Douglas says. I ain’t doing nothing else, he thought, why not? He enrolled at Nassau, and there switched from safety to corner.

Once Douglas arrived on campus, though, he struggled to make ends meet. Besides not always having enough money to eat, he didn’t have a stable home. Some players shared an apartment, but when Douglas couldn’t afford rent, he’d have to crash at a friend’s place, at times sleeping on the floor.

He would call his grandmother daily, before practice, after practice. They’d do what they often did: talk for five minutes, then sit in silence—just listening to each other breathe. Douglas wondered how he’d pull through. “It felt like it was no way out,” Douglas says.

Am I going to win in the end? he’d think. Am I going to be all right? Did I do all of this, did I put myself in debt, for all this? Am I going hungry, for something better?

Sometimes, he felt like quitting. “You can’t stop now,” his grandmother would tell him. Bell, too, convinced him to stay the course. “You’re right there,” Bell would tell him. “Just keep going. Don’t quit.”

So Rasul kept moving. In 2015, he was rated a four-star prospect and the third-best cornerback in the country, according to 247Sports rankings. But even when the scholarship offers started rolling in—from West Virginia, Louisville, Florida State, Illinois, and Tennessee, among others—he still felt uncertain. “I was like, ‘Yo, my goodness, I might not even make it to where I got a scholarship from,’” Rasul says.

West Virginia v Kansas
Douglas intercepts a pass during a game against Kansas in 2015
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

He eventually chose West Virginia, and in his first season, Douglas appeared in 11 games. Adams, the Mountaineers cornerbacks coach, noticed that Douglas was a perfectionist, laboring at his technique until he mastered each movement. Douglas hardly left the field. “That dude works his ass off,” Adams says.

Douglas morphed into a starter in 2016, intercepting eight passes, which tied for first nationally, to go along with 62 tackles. He was so sick before a game against Oklahoma, throwing up as kickoff approached, that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play. Not only did he play, but he managed an interception. Then later that week, following a stint in the hospital to receive fluids, he had another interception in a game against Iowa State.

His coaches told him he might get picked in the third or fourth round of the upcoming 2017 NFL draft. So on the day of the third round, family and close friends came over to his grandmother’s house to watch, and Douglas asked Tish whether she could pick up some sandwiches, chicken, sodas, and juice. She agreed, but didn’t tell him she was picking up something else: a big yellow sheet cake with pineapple filling (Carletta’s favorite). Tish had it customized with a football and the words: “Congratulations, Rasul!”

Tish hid the cake in the family’s laundry room, just in case Douglas’s name didn’t get called. She didn’t want him to feel discouraged, should that happen. Fortunately, the Eagles chose Douglas with the 99th pick. Tish slipped into the laundry room and brought out the cake.

“Auntie! You got a cake?!” Rasul said.

“I sure did.”

Cakes were special to the family, especially Carletta’s signature, homemade chocolate cakes, Rasul’s favorite. She’d always make it for him. No matter what the family was going through, she never made him feel as if he didn’t have, as if he couldn’t have.

When she mixed the flour, the butter, the sugar, the eggs, turning velvety batter into buttery sponge, a joyful aroma permeated the home. Rasul knew that he was loved.

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles
Douglas attempts a tackle during his time as an Eagle in 2019
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Douglas was excited to get started with the Eagles. A little too excited. He’d been a Chargers fan growing up, so the first time he saw his new Eagles teammate and former Charger Darren Sproles, he was a bit awe-struck.

Oh my God, it’s Darren Sproles.

Despite all that excitement, though, Douglas had few opportunities to play as a rookie. Sometimes he wouldn’t get in until the fourth quarter because he had players like Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills in front of him. And in the Eagles’ 41-33 Super Bowl win over the Patriots, he played just seven special teams snaps.

He reminded himself to stay patient. “It turns,” he says. “As long as you’re sitting at the table, it’s gonna turn.”

As his second season began, in September 2018, he bought his grandmother a new home—something he had dreamed of doing since he was a little boy. One Sunday, October 14, he drove from Philadelphia to East Orange to visit her. He told her all the things he was going to get her. A new bedroom set, perhaps. But the next morning, Carletta suddenly passed away. She was 82.

Rasul was devastated. He had lost his confidant. The person who believed in him, the person who listened to him. His cheerleader. The first time a journalist had come to speak with her about Rasul, she told them, proudly: “He has never been sassy!”

She was the first person Rasul gave a hug and a kiss after he got drafted. And now she was gone.

“It broke him,” Bell says.

The family tried to comfort Rasul, but he was busy trying to comfort them; trying to make sure they were OK. It was painful, mourning together. Tish had a feeling that Carletta spoke to Rasul from somewhere above, telling him: “You didn’t come this far to back out now. I’m OK, and you’re going to be OK. This is what you wanted. This is what we worked for, and you have to continue.”

Carletta always used to tell Douglas and his siblings about the fragility of life. “You’re not here forever,” Carletta would say. “God loans us out here. When he’s ready to take you back, he’s ready to take you back, and there’s nothing you could do about it.”

So Douglas carried on. He filled a spot in the Eagles rotation when Darby and Mills suffered injuries. He competed hard over his three years with the team, starting 18 of his 46 games and totaling 118 tackles (95 solo) and five interceptions.

Even as he moved from the Eagles to the Panthers to the Raiders to the Texans to the Cardinals, he didn’t lose faith. There were moments when he felt “low on energy,” he says, “and who I was as a player.” He called friends who had been on practice squads for insight on how they handled the situation. He remained hopeful. “Auntie, it’s going to be all right,” he’d tell Tish. “I’m blessed. I stay prayed up.”

He understood the business of the NFL, too; how careers can thrive, or fizzle, based on situation, coaches, timing. Some of it is serendipity. Some of it is politics. It can be unpredictable. Frustrating. “It was dark, because now you feel like the world has given up on you,” Bell says. “When you’re going through that, you think this football career is about to end. … Then what?”

Then what; the two words that can shatter an athlete’s sense of identity—sense of place in the world. Douglas wasn’t at all ready to give up, but his world kept shaking. Shortly after his grandmother’s death, a close friend and former youth football coach, Marquise, passed away. Douglas was still mourning their deaths—and still couldn’t play Phase 10, a card game Carletta enjoyed.

Then, in March 2021, Davis, his former youth coach and father figure, passed away.

As Douglas joined the Cardinals’ practice squad in September 2021, the pain of all three losses still lingered. And when the security guard didn’t recognize him, he felt he was at the lowest point of his career. Still, he hoped for a breakthrough.

I’mma get us out of here. We not gonna be here forever.

Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals
Douglas celebrates after an interception against the Cardinals in October
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Douglas turned to his faith. One of his favorite Bible verses is John 13:7: “Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’”

Douglas didn’t understand then, while he was with the Cardinals, but he trusted that things were supposed to happen that way. He believes that sometimes God puts pieces of adversity in front of a person to test him; to see whether he really wants what he asks for. To see whether he is strong enough, to see whether he won’t quit.

He searched for positives, choosing to learn from his experiences rather than resent them. “You need resilience, you need that adversity, that builds character,” he says. “You don’t want to skip those moments at all. You want those moments to mold you.”

When the Packers signed him, he felt that he’d finally found a team that valued him. He soon became close with Gray, spending hours dissecting film together. Known to players as “OG,” Gray says he knows what it feels like to be in Douglas’s shoes, walking into a new team, wondering whether teammates will accept him. Whether coaches will actually give him a fair shake against incumbents.

Gray remembers the first time Douglas asked to watch film together: “Hey, Coach, do you have any extra time?” Recalling this moment, Gray begins to cry. He pauses, gathering himself. “I think when you give him time, and you watch film, that’s precious,” Gray says. It’s rare for players to reach out like that, Gray says—to be willing to seek out help, to learn.

Gray has become a mentor to Douglas, to the point where Amos thought the two had known each other prior to Douglas’s time in Green Bay (they hadn’t). Douglas is constantly asking Gray what to look for when watching film. “Don’t watch film like TV,” Gray once said to Douglas. “Don’t be amused by the guy making a play. Try to figure out why he made the play. See what his alignment was, see what his split was.”

Gray encourages Douglas to not settle for merely playing. For becoming a starter. He wants Douglas to dream bigger. “Why not have something that’s so big, that that will scare you later?” Gray says.

“Hopefully Rasul sees himself as being All-Pro. Sees himself being one of the top corners in this league, because I know he works like that,” Gray says. “And does he deserve it? Of course he does. He’s made plays in this league this year that is just as good as anybody else in the NFL that’s playing corner.”

Moments with his coaches, or with his teammates, hanging out on Thursday nights at one of their homes, make Douglas feel accepted. Embraced. Things just … click. He says it feels like “family.” “You don’t want to let them down,” he says.

All this time he had been looking for a chance—a team that would give him the time and space to flourish. But he has found something deeper. “Home,” he says. That’s what his coaches and teammates have made him feel in Green Bay. “A place where you can be yourself,” he says. “Flaws and all, it’s fine, you’re still loved unconditionally, you know. That’s what I feel like here: flaws and all, they accept me for who I am. And they’re fine with that. They’re fine with going to war with who I am.”

Sometimes Tish wishes that Carletta could see Rasul now—a Pro Bowl alternate. But Tish is also sure that Carletta is watching over Rasul, watching him shine. It still hurts, though, that Carletta never got to hold Rasul’s son, 3-year-old Jeremiah, in her arms. Jeremiah, who the family calls “Pop Pop,” was born shortly before Carletta passed. She was able to see pictures of him, and see him over FaceTime, but not in person. “That hurt [Rasul] the most,” Tish says.

Jeremiah reminds Tish of a little Rasul. He has beautiful black eyes and a giant, adorable, dimpled smile. Tons of energy. Eager to learn. He’s known the alphabet and has been counting since he was 1. “Being a father,” Douglas says, “that’s probably the best feeling ever.”

As soon as Jeremiah senses Rasul is home after work—even hears the sound of his dad’s car pulling up—he runs toward the door. And hearing Jeremiah say “Da Da” does something to Rasul every time.

One day, Rasul will tell Jeremiah about what he went through early in his career. How he went farther than anyone thought he could. But for now, he isn’t satisfied. There is more work to be done. He wants another Super Bowl ring.

When Douglas puts on his Packers jersey, he feels something change in his body. Something becomes … different. He can’t quite explain what it’s like—some combination of fire and tingling. Anything that’s bothering him washes away. “Every time I play at Lambeau I feel like I get superpowers,” Douglas says. “It just feels like my heart beats different.”

All right, it’s time. Let’s go, he thinks to himself. His mind, his body, knows what to do. Tish’s words echo.

Show up and show out.

The Ringer NFL Show

Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and the L.A. Experience

NFL

The Zac Taylor Conundrum

NFL Playoffs

It Was a Super Bowl Dream and Nightmare All at Once for Odell Beckham Jr.

View all stories in NFL Playoffs