"He always needed to know what he was working for," said Harris, who coached McGahee at Central High and is now the head coach at Miami's Booker T. Washington High. "I remember when we'd be lifting, and he'd sit back and watch. He'd wait for the highest bench and then - wham - beat it. Then he'd wait for the highest clean and then - wham - beat it. He's motivated by beating other people."

And proving others wrong. There's a tattoo on the left side of his neck that illustrates that. He got the ink after recovering from the knee injury. "Guess who's back," the script lettering reads.

Looking back on the past few years, McGahee says he already regards his time with the Bills as more of a bridge, taking him from an injury that threatened his career to Baltimore.

He has announced a few times that he thinks he's one of the best running backs in the NFL, and he really believes it. But McGahee also realizes he hasn't proved it yet.

"I always knew from the beginning I could do a lot more," he says. "I just didn't know I had to go somewhere else to do it."

Starting out right

Just four days after the trade, after agreeing to a contract that makes him one of the game's five highest-paid running backs, McGahee works his way around the track at Northwestern High. Derek Ford, McGahee's running coach for more than a decade, holds a stopwatch and calls out a time whenever McGahee trots by.

"I want to make sure I get off on the right foot in Baltimore," McGahee says. "Everything is new. New coaching staff, new teammates. It's like being drafted all over again."

It won't be hard to distance himself from Buffalo. He says anything he owns with the Bills logo will be either given away or thrown away. "We Ravens now," he says.

There are no clouds in the sky, but a light drizzle falls, mixing in with the sweat that coats McGahee's shirtless frame. Tattoo ink decorates his neck, shoulders and arms, and that flickering image of theater masks on his arm shines under the moisture.

The good? Or the bad? Miami knows one, Buffalo thinks it knows another.

But in Baltimore, there will be no masks, and McGahee says, no lingering doubts as to just who he really is.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

bill.ordine@baltsun.com