Former Towson player Darius Victor has found a home – even if it’s not what he initially envisioned.
After brief stints with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, Victor flourished as a member of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. He leads the eight-team league in yards (524) and touchdowns (nine) and ranks second in carries (113) and fourth in yards per game (65.5).
“Whenever I played football, I felt at home, that’s where I feel peace,” he said. “So I can say this because the USFL gave me the opportunity to play football.”
With 28-year-old Victor at their side, the Generals lead the league in fast offense (165.0 yards per game) and total offense (354.1 yards per game) and rank third in scoring (22.6 points). per game). Since their 28-24 season-opening loss to the Birmingham Stallions on April 16, New Jersey has won seven straight games and claimed a playoff berth with three games remaining in the regular season.
Running backs coach Jay Locey compared Victor favorably to Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for his toughness and competitive streak.
“I think the beautiful part that he does is he’s one of those guys who elevates and takes on special teams, and every aspect he does is valuable to him,” Locey said of Victor. “He brings people with him.”
Victor wasn’t sure he would find stability in professional football. After his senior year with the Tigers in 2016, the Hyattsville native and Northwestern High graduate joined a packed Saints backfield that included Mark Ingram II, Alvin Kamara and Adrian Peterson for training camp in 2017, but he was cut in September. Two months later, he was signed to the Cardinals’ practice team and suffered several layoffs and rehirings before being released ahead of the 2018 season opener.
To make ends meet, Victor worked as a supervisor for a shipping company and sales operations manager for an automotive products company. Then, in October 2019, he was selected in the ninth round of the XFL draft by the New York Guardians and finished the 2020 season fifth in the league in yards (238) and sixth in average (4.3 yards per game), but did not reach the end zone.
The coronavirus pandemic halted the XFL’s comeback and the league filed for bankruptcy in April. Victor returned to Miami, where he provided security at several federal buildings.
Despite the setbacks, he continued training to stay in football shape, sometimes coming home at 8pm, chowing down on some food, going to sleep, and waking up before 6am to repeat the cycle.
“It was kind of hard to do this for so long with no end in sight,” he said. “It was like two full-time jobs, because in my head I was still a professional athlete and I prepared myself that way.”
Victor said he was contacted by the USFL a few weeks before the league’s initial draft in February. But neither team picked Victor, who was frustrated until the generals took him into the sixth round of the supplemental draft the following month.
“I was like, ‘Wow, not this again.’ But I kept the faith and got picked a few weeks later in the supplemental draft,” he said. “I’m older now, so I can handle disappointment better. I kind of spoke into existence.”
Locey, who worked with wide receivers and tight ends before being promoted to associate coach at Oregon State, said he was surprised Victor was still available. Locey said Victor, who is affectionately called “Vito” by those close to him, is tough to contend with due to his 1.60m, 90kg frame, powered by 30-inch thighs.
“It’s built low to the ground,” Locey said. “It’s hard to get under him. The term ‘bowling ball’ has been used a lot to describe Vito.”
Towson coach Rob Ambrose can attest to the difficulty facing Victor. He said that when Victor became a junior in 2015, coaches were forced to keep him out of short-yard and goal-line practices because he had a habit of running over his defensive teammates and injuring them.
“To be honest, I have to believe that part of the reason he’s not in the NFL is a gentlemen’s agreement, because nobody wants to fight him,” Ambrose said with his tongue firmly planted on his cheek. “There are great players, but Darius is unlike any football player I’ve ever seen. … I was a crazy football player a million years ago and I swear to God I would never want to face him.”
After logging 66 yards and zero touchdowns in that loss to the Stallions, Victor found the end zone five times in his next four games and then four times in his last two games, including three touchdowns and 87 yards in a 29–18 win over the Pittsburgh Maulers on June 3.
“I’m making the most of the opportunity,” he said. “I know for sure it can end with a snap of the fingers. So this is a big blessing, and I’m glad I’m enjoying it, because it would be a big waste if I didn’t.”
It remains to be seen whether Victor’s performances are impressing NFL scouts. While many NFL teams are opting for heavy offenses, Ambrose noted that the Ravens and Tennessee Titans continue to rely on run-based offenses, which might be adequate for a player of Victor’s caliber.
“It did nothing but open everyone’s eyes that he is a professional athlete,” said Ambrose. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the CFL, the NFL, the XFL, the USFL. Darius Victor is a professional.”
Victor said he doesn’t want to be distracted by thoughts about the NFL. He said he would rather focus on helping the generals win the USFL title at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, on July 3. with Towson.
“Just winning a champion ring would mean the world to me,” he said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do.”