Before Ray Lewis became a football star at Miami and a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the Ravens, the future Hall of Fame middle linebacker was a dominant state champion high school wrestler.

Growing up in Lakeland, Fla., Lewis won the Class 4A state championship in the 189-pound class as a senior at Kathleen High School.

Lewis was honored Sunday by the Maryland chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, given the organization's Outstanding American award for exemplary accomplishments beyond the sport.

Lewis didn't attend the event at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, but his high school coach, Stephen Poole, accepted on his behalf. Poole said Lewis was unable to travel because of the rapid approach of Hurricane Sandy, a previously-scheduled therapy session for his surgically-repaired torn right triceps and a meeting with his surgeon.

Lewis, 37, is on injured reserve-designated to return after injuring his arm during a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Although a return this season is regarded as unlikely, Poole predicted that Lewis will play football next season.

"Never bet against him," Poole said. "Knowing Ray, I think he's going to come back. He'll want to go out with a flair, a big splash. He'll come back if he can physically doing it. I can definitely see Ray coming back." 

Poole recalled Lewis as a fierce competitor on the wrestling mat.

"He's a natural leader, a great person," said Poole, who coached Lewis for his junior and senior years. "No hassles, you tell him to do something and he just did it. Whatever the opponent gave him, he took advantage of whatever there was to take advantage of. He wrestled some great athletes. The wins weren't easy. He was sweating bullets doing it."

Lewis was twice named the Most Valuable Player in football at Kathleen, recording 207 career tackles, 10 sacks and eight interceptions with three blocked field goals. He returned four punts and three kickoffs for touchdowns.

He also doubled as a running back who rushed for 591 yards and eight touchdowns,

"I'm sure wrestling helped him in football, and football helped him in wrestling," Poole said. "He was just great for us. This is a huge honor, and he's very deserving."

awilson@baltsun.com