As news trickled out Wednesday that Baltimore Ravens veteran linebacker Ray Lewis II had announced that he will retire at the end of the postseason, the chatter began.
Analysts, TV talking heads and sports radio callers across the nation's airwaves offered their opinions as to whether Lewis should retire, whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, whether he has enough in the tank to lead the Ravens back into the Super Bowl. But to one youngster preparing for a high school all-American game in California, none of that stuff mattered.
Sure, Ray Lewis III holds his father in high regard. He knows his dad, a 17-year veteran of the NFL, is one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game ... perhaps even the best ever. But unlike all of the fans, media types, bloggers and tweeters, the son and namesake of the Ravens' star doesn't concern himself about all of that other stuff.
"Many fans love him and might be disappointed about him retiring or whatever else they might be saying and different things like that, but to me he’s just dad," said Ray in a phone interview from Southern California, where the Lake Mary Prep star is preparing for Friday night's Semper Fi All-American Game at The Home Depot Center. "I don’t really look at him as this big athlete or this huge sports figure. To me, he's just my dad."
And like any youngster whose father has decided to retire, Ray III is excited that his dad will have extra time to spend once his career is finished.
"For me it means he'll be around more to see my college games and be involved in my life even more and stuff like that," said the son who many still call Lil Ray.
Ray Lewis III, who on Wednesday was named first team Florida Class 2A defensive utility player, is at the turning stone of his football career. Friday's all-American game marks the pivot of a transitional phase from high school to college football. The younger Lewis has decided to follow in his father's footsteps, at least in career path, and is committed to sign with the University of Miami on National Signing Day (Feb. 6).
He's had impressive success at the high school level, racking up more than 9,000 yards as a running back during his career at LMP, scoring nearly 100 touchdowns. He will be listed as an athlete entering his freshman year at Miami, where he will await summer workouts to see where he fits in as far as his position of the future.
"I'll play wherever," said Lewis III, who has been working out as a slot receiver and running back at the Semper Fi practices. "I'll play wherever I fit in or wherever I can help the team."
Many see Lewis II as a man who has played his professional career full of bravado, machismo and showmanship. Others see that as just being part of the game.
What many don't know about the older Lewis is his conviction to all he does, whether it’s on the field or off. He comes from humble, struggling beginnings in Lakeland. He grew up without a father figure and he has drawn on his experience spending time with his son this fall during rehab for a torn triceps muscle as insight and direction in helping him decide to hang up his shoulder pads.
The NFL star told reporters Wednesday that had it not been for the time he was able to spend with his two sons this season during his injury rehab, he may not have been able to make the same decision. Lewis has another son at LMP in Rayshad Lewis, who just finished his freshman season, and there's younger brother Rashaan Lewis, also at LMP. The elder Lewis also has three daughters.
“I could never say I would do it any differently because of what I had the opportunity to do, and that’s to see my babies go out,” Lewis said. “Me being who I am and not having a father myself, that damaged me a lot. I didn’t want my kids to relive that.”
Dad made a promise to Ray III that he would be there to see him in college. He was even in the room that day last March when Lil Ray committed to head coach Al Golden and the Miami program.
“I can’t miss that,” dad said of his son’s college career.
Now, even though he carries the name of his father, Ray III is out to make his own name ... his own legacy. He's built confidence this week in competing with the all-American types he's come up against in practices. Coming from Lake Mary Prep, a small, Class 2A private school, Lewis III knows he doesn't get the respect or attention that some of the players from bigger schools have received.
He was even a little concerned about how he would perform this week.
"Definitely and it was not because I was coming in here scared or anything, but I was anxious to see what it would be like," Ray III said. "Everybody always talks about me like this little 2A talent. All these other people are from huge schools and the game is so much faster and everyone is strong and there is more athleticism than at the level I'm used to, but all of us here are like that. Everybody here is going to big D-1 schools.
"So far people are saying that I'm doing great. I already knew I had it in me to perform, but it's nice to hear it from the other people like the analysts and other people who see that I can compete. It just gives me even more confidence and motivation to compete even harder."
He's ready to get to work in preparation for his Miami career. He's even more excited to know that he has a workout partner who will help push him to his limits.
"I can't wait to get started doing some more college-type workouts with my dad," Lewis III said. His dad makes his offseason home in Boca Raton, which is on the way to the Coral Gables UM campus from Lake Mary. "He'll be around even more now to help me in getting prepared. It will be nice."
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun