You’ve got to hand it to Ray Lewis III.
People expect things of him. That's what happens when you are the son and namesake of a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. Somehow, though, Ray Lewis III takes most everything in stride.
Sure, he’s the son of Ray Lewis, the iconic symbol of what a linebacker should be. There may never be another linebacker like Ray Lewis Sr.
They said that about Dick Butkus for a period of time. Then came along Ray Lewis, the former Lakeland Kathleen High, Miami Hurricanes star who is now an NFL All-Pro with the Baltimore Ravens -- and Lewis has forever changed the standards of being a linebacker.
Ironically, Ray Lewis never won the Butkus Award in college, given to the nation's best linebacker. He was runner-up his junior year and then went to the NFL.
But this is what Ray Lewis III is supposed to live up to, right? And, for the record, he is still a mere shadow of his father's chiseled, 6-foot-1, 255-pound structure. Lil Ray, as friends and family have called him, is 5-foot-10, 192 pounds, and he won't be playing linebacker at UM, but more likely running back or defensive back.
“My dad started the legend and now it’s my turn to continue the legend,” Lil Ray said last week, a day after committing to the University of Miami, where his father was a three-year all-American before turning to the NFL
It’s easy for people to judge and have expectations that far outweigh any relevance to reality. Many say Ray Lewis III is not NCAA Division I-A material. Those same people have never seen him play ... probably never even pushed the play arrow on his Internet highlight videos.
“Obviously with just my dad being who he is there are those expectations,” said Ray III. “The most important thing for me is to play football the way I was taught, with hard work, dedication, determination and listening to the coaches. You must be disciplined.”
The first game I saw Lil Ray play, he was disciplined for being late to a team meeting that day. Coach Buck Gurley sat him out the first quarter. Discipline. You live it, you from learn it.
After this past season, during which he ran for 2,231 yards and 28 touchdowns, he was nearly left of the All-district team composed of Volusia and Seminole county players. He was stuck in late as a utility player. Running backs Mookie Lee of 6A Mainland and Ti'on Greene of 8A Lake Brantley were the picks at that position, and understandably so. Both are great running backs.
Ray III plays in Class 2A. That competition level is what hurts him more than anything when it comes judgment time. Even if the one being judged did run for an average of 13.11 yards every time he carried the football. That's impressive even in peewee Pop Warner.
He brushes off the judgments. He even agrees, to some extent, with how he is measured.
“I don’t let hype, expectations, the media … all that stuff get o me," Ray III said. "I don’t get frustrated with the media, the newspapers. All they are doing is seeing things from the outside.
“If I was looking in on myself, honestly, I would say the same thing. It just depends on what viewpoint and what perspective you are looking at it from.”
He’s mature beyond his years and that’s why he is able to place such an adult perspective on things. His father has always prided himself in being a communicator and Lil Ray has followed suit. He’s articulate, a provocative thinker and is able to prioritize his life at a level equal to that of the way he plays football.
He's also not alone in his situation. Fellow Class 2A running back Kelvin Taylor at Belle Glade Glades Day is the son of former University of Florida and NFL great Fred Taylor. Kelvin Taylor, like Lil Ray, will follow his father's path to the same college where the elder established his legacy.
Taylor used to be considered the top running back in the state for his class (2013) back when he was an eighth-grade phenom. He has still amassed enough yardage to surpass Emmitt Smith as the state's all-time rushing leader.
Yet now he's only considered by most the third best runing back in the state. Even the Sentinel's Florida Top 100, Taylor is ranked behind Derrick Henry (No. 4) of Yulee and Greg Bryant (No. 5) of Delray Beach American Heritage. Taylor is ranked No. 9. Ray Lewis III is ranked No. 78. Should he be higher? Perhaps.
“Honestly, it hasn’t really been that frustrating. I know people do look at 2A and think it’s not much competition,” Ray Jr. says. “But we’ve played against the top teams. We play against Warner Christian and they are one of the top teams in the state every year.
“Regardless of what class you are playing in, you still have to go out there and show you are a competitor.”
Many say he should have transferred, maybe even to public Lake Mary High School, but he loves his unique setting.
“At my school we had 19 players last year. Most of us never came off the field,” Ray Jr. said. “We didn’t have the biggest offensive line, but I love them to death. I wouldn’t trade them for anyone in the nation. I’m even bigger than some of them. Athletes are athletes, no matter what level they are playing.”
He sure has grown up from the scrawny 5-foot-8, 165-pound kid I met two years ago, when I thought, “That's Ray Lewis’ son?”
Yes he is, and don’t think for a second that Big Ray isn’t proud of his namesake, and more proud, likely, in him as a man than as a football player.