ESJH’s ‘Duke’ Williams gets NFL shot with L.A. Rams

Published 12:02 am Saturday, June 25, 2016

LAPLACE — After the last name had been announced in the 2016 NFL Draft in April, East St. John High graduate D’haquille “Duke” Williams turned off his cell phone.

According to reports, Williams had been told the Oakland Raiders might take him in the fifth round. When it didn’t happen, Williams became discouraged.

So, a few days later, the Los Angeles Rams had to jump through some hoops to get hold of him.

“They had to call his sister, who lives in Atlanta, and she called his mom in LaPlace to tell her to tell him the Rams were trying to get in touch,” said Raffael Neal, a longtime family friend and Williams’ youth coach back in the day. “They finally found him.”

The Rams wanted to invite Williams to a rookie tryout camp that was held May 7. On May 8, he signed a 3-year, $1.67 million contract, contingent on him making the team.

A lot of people back in St. John the Baptist Parish hope that’s just a formality.

It has been a long and rocky road for the local son who dreamed, at one time, of a basketball career. He ended up at the now-defunct Liberty Christian Academy, a non-accredited school, which intended to build itself into a basketball power with no football program.

Those who saw him play football, however, knew the gridiron was where he belonged.

“He was always the tallest guy on the team,” said Neal, who coached the Heat Youth Organization and a 9-year-old Williams. “All he wanted to do was catch the ball, but when you’re 9 years old, who has a quarterback who can throw it to him? He didn’t want to run the ball, he didn’t want to play quarterback. All he wanted was to play receiver. He’d just say, ‘Coach, put it up there. I’ll go get it.’ And he did.”

It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that Williams ended up at East St. John, playing for Coach Larry Dauterive for two seasons. He was an All-State selection both years.

“In 44 years, Ryan Perrilloux and D’haquille Williams have stood as the best athletes I’ve ever coached,” Dauterive said. “God has given him some wonderful gifts.”

Only his piecemeal academic career hampered his future. He enrolled in the GED program then went the Junior College route, to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. As a redshirt freshman he earned JUCO All-America honors.

In 2013 he signed with Auburn, where he had 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. While his talents on the field were obvious, some off-the-field incidents overshadowed them. He was suspended then kicked off the team in 2015. His NFL draft stock dropped.

Apparently, his journey isn’t over, however.

“He’s been given a second chance,” Dauterive said. “He deserves it.”

Neal, who has spoken to Williams only once since he left for Los Angeles, said he knows what’s at stake.

“He called me and he said, ‘Coach, I made it,’” Neal said. “I told him, ‘Now comes the hard part. You’ve got to stay there.’”