The former UM star football player and retired NFL linebacker shared stories from his past and gave advice to students.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 03, 2013) —
Ray Lewis’s greatest moment as a Miami Hurricane wasn’t the 15 tackles he recorded in a game against West Virginia or being named to the All-American team in his sophomore and junior years. It was the simple, uneventful act of stepping foot for the first time on UM’s Coral Gables campus as a newly arrived freshman linebacker from Lakeland, Florida.
Raised in a disruptive environment with drug-related activity all around him, Lewis viewed his arrival at UM as a chance to succeed. “Everything that’s around me presents opportunity, a chance to help my family,” Lewis recalled telling himself.
The two-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, who retired earlier this year after 17 seasons in the NFL, told that story, among others, to an audience of more than 400 University of Miami students Wednesday during an event billed as “An Evening with Ray Lewis.” His talk, held in the grand ballroom of the University’s new Student Activities Center, was presented by UM Student Government and Hurricane Productions.
“This place is so special,” said Lewis, who played for UM from 1992 to 1995, when the institution was a member of the Big East Conference. “If you haven’t realized it yet, you will as you travel the world and learn how many people are connected to the U.”
Lewis opened his talk in a Q&A format, telling one student that former Baltimore Ravens teammates Eric Turner, a safety who died of intestinal cancer at 31, and Shannon Sharpe, a Hall of Fame tight end, had the biggest impact on his life. “They gravitated toward me,” Lewis said. “They never told me what I had to do but only gave me options.”
Dermontti Dawson, the seven-time Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame center with the Pittsburgh Steelers, delivered what Lewis regards as the hardest hit he ever took in the NFL. “When I left UM, I was maybe 215 pounds soaking wet. It was a wakeup call for me. [Dermontti] was probably the toughest player who made me grow up quickly.”
But Lewis faced other challenges long before he made it to the NFL. His UM career, he told students, almost didn’t happen. Lewis recalled being offered a scholarship by legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who told him he would have to sit on the bench and observe and learn before he could start. Lewis, however, felt he could contribute right away and decided to turn down FSU’s offer, a move his former high school coach criticized.
With the 1992 college football season drawing closer, Lewis had no scholarship. That is, until UM offered one. As a freshman UM linebacker, he became a starter for the final five games, recording 81 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and four pass deflections en route to being named to the freshman All-America team. As a junior, he finished as a runner-up for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker. He left after his junior year to enter the 1996 NFL Draft, where the Ravens selected him with the 26th overall pick.
Lewis helped the Ravens win Super Bowls for the 2000 and 2012 campaigns, the last coming as he returned from a serious triceps tear suffered midway through the season. He recalled football analysts saying he wouldn’t make it back from the injury, so he used their words to inspire himself. “The haters became my motivators,” he said.
On the field Lewis was known as a leader, inspiring teammates—and fans—with his words and dance moves. He was known for his famous pregame “Squirrel Dance” ritual. He didn’t demonstrate those moves at his Wednesday talk, but gladly invited a student onto the stage to try it.
Lewis also doled out advice. “Prepare properly, and you’ll have an 80 to 90 percent chance of succeeding,” he said. “If you don’t have balance in your life, you’re playing a game of Russian roulette.”
Robert Jones can be reached at 305-284-1615.
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