For this youth football team, "Play like a Raven" isn't just an idle slogan. They are the Ravens — the Hampstead Ravens, that is.
"Everyone wants to be us," player Larry Smith, 12, says of his opponents.
For one thing, the Hampstead Ravens are winners: The team of 10- to 12-year-olds snagged the Maryland Youth Football championship for the second season in a row. And for another, since 1996 they have shared the name and logo of the Baltimore Ravens, who are on their way to Super Bowl XLVII.
With a logo featuring the familiar, fierce bird in profile — but with an "H" rather than a "B" on its head — and jerseys in the equally familiar purple, the Hampstead kids stand out from opponents who play under what at least locally are more generic names: Panthers, Gators, Wildcats and such.
While the NFL and its teams increasingly crack down on counterfeiters who appropriate their trademarked logos, the Hampstead Ravens have special persmission, dating to when they and their namesake were both new to the area.
The Hampstead youth football club was organized in 1995, the same year that the Cleveland Browns announced they would move to Baltimore, where the following year they were named the Ravens. The club in Carroll County asked the new pro team if they could call themselves the Ravens too, and were given the go-ahead. They are not the only youth team to take up the Ravens name; the Columbia Ravens, for example, have built a program with about 300 players.
"There is kind of a special relationship there," said Chris Harper, president of Hampstead Ravens Youth Football and Cheerleading.
In addition to sharing a name and logo, the pro team has given their Hampstead counterparts funds to pay for equipment and uniforms. The kids also have attended football clinics run by Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh at McDaniel College, where the pro team previously held its training camps.
Some 160 kids participate in the various age-group teams that the club fields. They're not affiliated with a rec center as some of their competitors are, but borrow the Hampstead Lions Club field for games and practices.
With theirr season complete, the Hampstead boys have been eagerly following the Baltimore Ravens' march to the Super Bowl. As young players, they find much in the team that mirrors their own coaches' messages. There have been plenty of lessons to absorb on teamwork, leadership and overcoming adversity during the pro team's not-always-smooth ride to New Orleans.
"It's inspiring," player Adam Melville, 13, said of playing under the Ravens' banner.
The Hampstead Ravens players say their success comes about, as it does for the pro Ravens, through preparation, watching film of opponents' games and, most of all, teamwork. Most of the 17 players have been together for years, and joke and pal around like brothers — laughing about the "mud bowl" they sloshed through after some rainy weather, or the fearsome kid on another team who looked to weigh about 250 pounds.
In fact, when their coach, Tony Holland, looks back over the team's perfect season, it's not the 14-0 record that he brings up first.
"The highlight has been the kids coming together as a team," Holland said. "They really are a brotherhood."
Their postseason was perfect as well. First they took the Mid-Maryland Youth Football title, winning a Lombardi-like trophy for what they call their Super Bowl game, then they went on to capture the state championship in their division.
The boys were thrilled to see the pro Ravens doing as well in the playoffs, especially after the team ended the regular season in less than dominating fashion.
"I thought Denver was going to beat them because Denver was a really good team," said Adam, whose twin, Daniel, also plays on the team.
"And they have Peyton Manning," Joel DeJesus, 13, added.
The takeaway from that victory? "Any given Sunday," Zane Lewis, 12, said, "you can win."
Zane's mother, Terries Lewis, said she picked the team for him about four years ago because of its reputation for having a steady group of coaches who treated all the players equally without favoring "stars."
"My son is a good player, don't get me wrong, but he knows it takes his whole team to win," said the Westminster resident. "It takes a village."
It's something the boys take to heart.
"You have to come together on the field," Michael Dickens, 13, said. "You have to play with each other's weaknesses and strengths."
Despite their perfect record, they didn't go into the state championship against the Pikesville Wildcats overconfident.
"At our state championship game, we were the underdog," Antonio Holland, 12, said. "The other team never got scored on during the season."
"We wanted it more," Brandon Smith, 12, said.
Now, they have high hopes for the pro Ravens, who play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. They think the team will play especially hard in the last game for No. 52 — something they can understand, given that several of their teammates will be leaving as they get older.
"That's why they're on a winning streak," Daniel Melville, 13, said. "They're doing it for Ray Lewis. He inspires them."
While some of them have favorites on the Baltimore Ravens, there isn't any squabbling over jersey numbers. And the jerseys don't carry their own names — rather, they dedicated their season to the U.S. armed forces, and put character traits such as commitment, respect and integrity where the names normally would go.
"We're not just teaching them how to play the sport," said Harper, an active-duty lieutenant in the Navy. "We're trying to teach kids how to be better people."
All in all, both Ravens teams likely will look back on this season with fondness.
"It was a good year," Harper said, "a really good year."
Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.
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