There is noise all around Elvis Dumervil.
Terrell Suggs is singing to no one in particular. Lardarius Webb is playfully yelling at a teammate. The sound of a whistle followed by the boom of a coach's voice is heard from an adjacent field.
About 50 players are spread out over two fields when the Ravens' newest defensive star walks out of the team facility, stops on the edge of the turf, takes a knee and bows his head in prayer.
"I think this year more than anything, I'm at ease," Dumervil said. "I'm at peace. For me on a personal level, I have a clear mind. It's amazing how it sets everything else to be as such."
Despite being named for Elvis Presley and going by the nickname "Kool," Dumervil is most comfortable outside the spotlight. But the strong-side linebacker, who joined the Ravens in March, knows the attention is unavoidable this week.
There are plenty of subplots in the Ravens' season-opening showdown against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night and one of them involves a fax machine, an ugly divorce and finally, a spiritual rebirth.
Dumervil, 29, joined the Broncos as a fourth-round pick in 2006 and made the Pro Bowl three times in seven seasons. However, he was released on March 15 after his signed agreement on a $4 million salary reduction arrived via fax seven minutes after the league deadline. It resulted in Dumervil firing his agent and choosing to sign with the Ravens nine days later.
With the Broncos and Ravens meeting in such a high-profile game, Dumervil finds himself having to relive one of the most difficult times of his career.
"The way my tenure ended there was business and that's how I'm going about it," he said. "It's nothing personal, man. They have enough that they are dealing with. As far as me, I'm just trying to be in the best physical and mental place that I can be in for me to be at my best."
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun last week and in a group session with reporters today, Dumervil spoke positively about his time with the Broncos, now without their two top pass rushers from last season with Von Miller serving a six-game ban for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Dumervil is sure that his return will stir some emotions but that's about as far as he'll go. However, at least one person who knows him well expects to see a "crazy motivated" pass rusher Thursday night.
"It wasn't cool what they did but everybody has to move on," said Curry Burns, Dumervil's half-brother and former NFL defensive back. "He's always had adversity in front of him. He's always been the smallest guy, always the guy that has to prove himself. He's always proven everybody wrong and he's not going to stop."
Whether Dumervil has anything to prove to the Broncos, for whom he registered 63.5 sacks, is immaterial because he's always felt like he did.
He felt that way growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami, where Dumervil had to mark his territory, sometimes with his fists. He felt that way coming out of Jackson High School when all the big-time schools in Florida balked at recruiting him. And he certainly felt that way when concerns about his 5-foot-11 frame prompted him to fall to the fourth round of the draft despite leading the nation and setting a Louisville record with 20 sacks during his senior season.
"Fourth round?," Dumervil asked, still incredulous after all these years. "I led the [conference] in sacks and forced fumbles. I always have been the underdog so it was like, 'OK, here we go again.'"
The son of Haitian immigrants who settled in a section of Miami called Liberty City, Dumervil grew up in a foster home that once housed as many as 13 kids. Dumervil's father left the family when he was 3 while his mother worked at a local hotel.
It was at a local church where Dumervil met Frank Gachelin, a former Navy man who would help Dumervil stay out of trouble and teach him the importance of hard work and dedication.
"He taught me discipline," said Dumervil, who has five brothers and one sister, and three half-brothers. "He really shaped me up to deal with the day-to-day grind of practice and training camp. I was doing that in high school. I had to wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning, run my three miles, work out, then go to school. Then after practice, I worked out again. That was normal. That was all I knew."
It was also far better than getting immersed in the crime and drug culture that was pervasive in Liberty City.
"You see guns, you see violence, you see people being shot at in a parking lot," Dumervil said. "I didn't know any better until I left for college and realized there was more out there. I grew up in a church and my mom was a hard-working lady so I knew right from wrong. I made a lot of bad decisions, too, but I learned from them."
And there was always sports. All Dumervil and his brothers needed was a slab of cement and a game would break out. They played several sports, but Dumervil's aggressiveness made football the best fit.
At one point in high school, Dumervil and his four brothers were on the same team. James Dumervil and Louis Gachelin, his half brother, wound up playing at Syracuse. Elvis followed Burns to Louisville.
"The one common goal that we all had was the love that we all had for football," said James Dumervil, 31. "We had a lot of fuel growing up, a lot of anger, just because the situation that we were in. But football was our safe haven."
'Fit right in'
Preparing for Thursday's game, the Ravens have watched their 38-35 double-overtime victory over the Broncos last January. It still hurts Dumervil to see footage of him not being able to corral quarterback Joe Flacco before he uncorked a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones.
Other than the painful walks down memory lane this week, Dumervil has made a seamless transition to the Ravens' locker room. He's teamed with Suggs to give the Ravens arguably their most-formidable pass rush duo. His quiet, yet, intense temperament has also been a perfect complement to the vocal and free-wheeling Suggs. Coach John Harbaugh recently called Dumervil a "4.0 across the board."
"Once he signed, he's fit right in with the guys," Suggs said. "He's a guy that belongs here. He has the mentality that works here, that we have here. He's not afraid to work hard and get better every day."
The Ravens used Dumervil pretty much on passing downs in the preseason with Courtney Upshaw playing strong-side linebacker on running downs. Even while learning a relatively new position, Dumervil said he's felt at home with the Ravens. He said his defining moment, the time where he knew he made the right choice in signing a five-year, $26 million contract, was when the Ravens opened a team meeting the night before mandatory veteran minicamp with a prayer.
"I thought that was probably one of the coolest things ever," Dumervil said. "I had a really tough year in the past year just spiritually. I finally found myself and made a decision off of that. Coming here has been great."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun