Ray Lewis met some of his smallest but biggest fans on Tuesday.
The Ravens linebacker entered the Abbottston Elementary school gym to the screams of 200 students, including sixth-graders from the nearby Stadium School, to hand out free backpacks full of supplies for the new school year.
Lewis was joined by his youngest daughter, 11-year-old Raven, and his mother, Sunseria Smith, to help hand out the supplies from his charity, The Ray Lewis 52 Foundation, for the school in the Northeastern Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood. Others from the foundation and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young also attended.
Upon arrival, Lewis walked up and down the rows of kids, shaking hands, patting heads and chatting.
"I'm never washing my hand again," said Legacy Forte, 11, a sixth-grader at the Stadium School, over the load roar of students.
Her best friend, Jasmyn Howard, also 11, was able to snap a quick picture of Lewis on her cell phone.
"It's not a very good picture, but it's still a picture," Howard said.
After Lewis weaved in and out of the rows, reaching nearly all the students, he gave them advice for the new year.
"You gotta understand what your teachers are telling you," Lewis said. He reminded kids to be quiet when their teachers talk, to listen to their instructions and to be respectful.
"There is no limit; you guys are our future," he said.
He also stressed what is important off the field — helping others. He said he brought his daughter to show "what really drives me" — that there's more outside of football, he said.
Lewis' mother said children need to "respect parents, respect teachers," and received applause from parents around the perimeter of the school's gym. She also told them Lewis "is a giant, but he is a teddy bear."
Yusuf Jenkins, 30, who came to pick up his daughter Naija, a second-grader, called the visit awesome. "It's a nice gesture. I like the message he put out," he said. "And he's a lot bigger than I thought."
After Lewis spoke, the students formed a line to receive their supplies. When Naija grabbed her new bright pink backpack, Jenkins made her pause for a quick picture. "At first she tried to walk away. I said 'oh, no,'" he said, pulling out his cell phone to show off the photo.
"It shows he cares," Jenkins said, saying Lewis could have dropped the stuff off and left. But Lewis waited to hand out the backpacks to each kid, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Dale Byrd, an 11-year-old at the Stadium School, was sitting in the back and didn't get to reach Lewis when he first greeted the students. But Byrd was able to get close when he went to get his black backpack. "He touched it!"
"They were so excited," said Denise Mabry, managing principal. "We're so blessed."