Damion Ratley was running out of time.
After a disappointing junior season, the Texas A&M wide receiver had one last chance to produce like he knew he could. The start to his senior year, though, couldn't have been any worse. He went without a catch in the season opener and added just one the following week against Nicholls.
Ratley knew he was losing the trust of those who had the power to put him in position for the big plays he was confident he could make.
"You have to build trust with someone before they trust you and depend on you to do things," Ratley said. "Once I built trust with them, they trusted me to go deep and do certain things, turn slants into touchdowns."
It started Week 3 against Louisiana-Lafayette, when Ratley took a short pass 76 yards to set up a Texas A&M touchdown. One week later, he registered a 50-yard catch in an overtime win over Arkansas. From that point forward, Ratley caught at least one pass of 25 yards or longer in all but one of his remaining games.
The Browns loved that big-play potential and made him the eighth of their nine draft picks, selecting him in the sixth round with the 175th overall pick.
"I love every single bit of it," Ratley said. "I am so grateful that they called my name and I was able to come here. It is a blessing. There are a lot of people that do not get to do this. One percent of all athletes get to do this so just taking it in and taking advantage of it. I am loving every single bit of it."
Ratley's love for the game kept him going, even when it looked like his career was over.
A regular student at Blinn Community College, Ratley was inspired to join the football team after watching an Alabama-Texas A&M game in 2013. According to a 2017 Houston Chronicle article, Ratley had made the Blinn football team as a tryout player months earlier but opted to focus on his studies. Now, he was determined to not only return to the field, but play at a high enough level to become a player fans would watch on college football Saturdays.
Done and done.
In his lone season at Blinn, Ratley caught 45 passes for 1,197 yards and a whopping 20 touchdowns. That certainly caught the attention of Texas A&M, and he was on campus one year later.
It just wasn't the smoothest transition for Ratley, who caught 15 passes for 200 yards in his first season but dropped off in a big way with just two receptions as a junior. The depth chart opened up for Ratley as he entered his senior season, but, yet again, the start wasn't ideal.
The finish is one of the reasons why he's in Cleveland.
He made big plays starting Week 3, but he did even more as the second half of the season unfolded. Over Texas A&M's final five games, Ratley caught 17 passes for 387 yards and six touchdowns.
Ratley caught the attention of teams like the Browns with his big-play prowess, but he's reluctant to be pigeonholed into one line of work.
"The thing is, I can go vertical and I can stop and I can do anything you want me to do," Ratley said. "I can run any route. Vertical as one of my strengths but I can do anything you want me to do."