From dollar menu to gourmet: How Eagles' Rasul Douglas beat hunger

When the call came in, Rasul Douglas kept the news to himself at first.

It was Day 2 of the 2017 NFL draft, and Douglas was at his grandmother’s house in East Orange, New Jersey, surrounded by friends, family and a couple of his former coaches. To pass the time as Round 2 and most of Round 3 came and went without his name being called, the group began playing cards. Late in the third round, Douglas answered his phone and had a brief conversation, but did not reveal who it was or what was said. Curiosity started creeping in.

“His aunt was like, ‘He got the call,’” his East Orange High School football coach, Marion Bell, said. "But we didn’t know who, because he didn’t say anything."

The Miami Dolphins were on the clock, and the group began finding reasons why they would be a good fit. Warm weather. A chance to train outdoors year-round. But the Dolphins took fellow cornerback Cordrea Tankersley of Clemson.

The Cardinals were next. He’ll be teamed up with Patrick Peterson! But Arizona went with Grambling's Chad Williams.

Finally, one of Douglas’ friends guessed right.

“He said, ‘My boy 'Sul is going to be an Eagle,'" Bell said. "So then he turned around and said, ‘Yep, I’m going to be an Eagle.’ That’s when they announced it. And everybody just went crazy. It almost brought tears to my eyes.”

Some stood up and gave speeches, according to Bell, but not Douglas.

“He was just smiling.”

Douglas was still wearing that smile -- along with a black tuxedo vest, bow tie and a fresh new Eagles cap -- when he addressed the Philadelphia media the next day, even as the conversation turned to some of the darker days in his life.

One of seven siblings, Douglas was raised by his grandmother in East Orange, a city in northern New Jersey with a poverty rate of 21 percent. He had no plans for the future following high school but ended up attending Nassau Community College at the urging of Bell and Nassau’s coach, Curtis Guilliam. Nassau had no dorms, so he lived in an apartment eight miles from campus and took the bus to and from school and practice every day. He slept on the floor and, with very little money, often battled hunger.

“When you’ve got to walk to McDonald’s in the snow, order five things, and you eat two of it at 12 o’clock, and you save the other dollar-menu [items] for later in the day, I think [those were some] of my craziest days,” he said.

“I always think about it. Every time I eat, I always think I’m making up a meal that I missed in junior college or something like that. ... It definitely fuels me all the time, just thinking about what I went through, practicing on an empty stomach, going to school on an empty stomach. You can’t even focus. So that definitely makes me want to play all-out all the time.”

Guilliam helped make sure Douglas was taken care of the best he could, including by getting him a job at a summer camp so he had a little money in his pocket.

“We would do what we would have to do to help the young men,” Guilliam said. “It’s kind of tough in certain situations, but guess what, that hunger makes him better. I’m a big believer of that. That hunger is what kept him driving and pushing to where he is at now.”

That tenacity is what stood out to Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas when he got an up-close look at him at the Senior Bowl.

“You saw it the entire week," he said. "Every rep was like the last rep he was playing. I love the way this guy competes.”

It took some time for Rasul to get to that point. Bell described him as "very confused" when he was in high school.

"He didn’t really know what direction he wanted to go in, like most kids in the inner city," Bell said. "They don’t have a father figure around them or some guy that’s really trying to show them the right way. They don’t really have any aspirations to be better as they get older. And for a minute, I think he thought that, really, there’s no way out of this stuff.”

Bell urged him to play football. Though basketball was his preference at the time, Douglas eventually agreed, and went on to shine for East Orange.

Despite the hunger, he was a bouncing ball of energy in the early days at Nassau -- Guilliam says they'd be in the middle of instructions and Douglas would literally start doing backflips -- but he was still raw. The decision was made to red-shirt him his freshman year, adding to his frustrations. There were moments when Douglas considered quitting, but he toughed it out and then blossomed. He garnered first-team All-American honors after leading his team to a 10-0 record in 2014.

The scholarship offers came rolling in, from Florida State and Louisville, among others, but he chose West Virginia. It all came together this past season for Douglas, who finished with an NCAA-high eight interceptions.

At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Douglas is not your average-sized cornerback; he has at least 2 inches and 10 pounds on every other corner currently on the Eagles' roster. Because of that size, Bell, who continues to train Douglas, had a tough time coming up with an appropriate NFL comparison.

“He’s so big, man, I can’t even say Richard Sherman, because I think he may be a little bit bigger than Richard Sherman," he said. "More like a Kam Chancellor playing corner to me. And I told him, 'Eventually, you’re going to move to safety so just be prepared for it.' He’s going to wind up being a safety, because the more you eat, you get stronger, you get bigger.”

The plan for now, the Eagles say, is to keep Douglas at corner. The opportunity exists for him to make an immediate impact. With both starters from last year no longer on the team and second-round pick Sidney Jones still recovering from an Achilles injury, Douglas should get an opportunity to compete for playing time.

Whatever the odds of capturing a starting job, they can't be any greater than the ones he beat to get that life-altering phone call late last month, the one he cherished for a moment before sharing it with the people that helped make it possible.

“We have a lot of great athletes come out of East Orange, but they don’t make it all the way, because they can’t go to that next level of functioning," Bell said. "I’ve coached so many kids that could be in his situation, but the discipline part of it, they just couldn’t do. He was a person that was able to handle going up to Nassau, dealing with the tough living conditions, listening to Coach G, sticking with the plan. Most kids can’t do that.”