WHO'S THE MAN?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

His parents, his girlfriend and his teammates all say the same thing about Domonique Foxworth. The Ravens cornerback might look like a 26-year-old, he might run like a 26-year-old, but he thinks and conducts his life like a 40-year-old - always has. n His parents considered him more responsible than his brother, who is two years older. His NFL mentor, Champ Bailey, considered him the levelheaded one in their relationship. Whether the subject is President Barack Obama, the role of a black athlete in modern society or the NFL players union's treatment of retired players, Foxworth can deliver a well-crafted opinion.

His ability to react, not with emotion but with a cool assessment of facts and priorities, has carried him through a complicated early career. On the verge of reporting to his first Ravens training camp next month, Foxworth already has endured the violent death of a beloved teammate, frustrating stints on the bench, an abrupt trade and free agency.

In the face of such obstacles, he helped establish a teen center in his murdered friend's name, became the youngest member of the NFL players union's executive committee and earned a $28 million deal with his hometown team.

It would be shortsighted to say he's worldly and thoughtful compared with other football players. Foxworth is worldly and thoughtful compared with most people.

"He's very methodical about everything he does," says Foxworth's father, Lorinzo. "When things come up, you're not going to get an off-the-wall reaction from him. There's going to be a thought-out process that goes into it."

Foxworth's mother, Karen, laughs at her husband's words. "That is directly descended from his father," she says. "They're both old men in young men's bodies."

Lorinzo Foxworth was in the midst of a 20-year Army career when Domonique was born in Oxford, England, in 1983. The family moved to the Baltimore area as he reached kindergarten age and settled in Randallstown. Domonique and his elder brother, Dion, built their existence around sports.

"It's all we did," Foxworth says. "If it was a rainy day, we'd play video games, but aside from that, it was the basketball hoop over by Deer Park Elementary School or we would just go up and play football in the field."

Though he was a scrawny kid, Foxworth settled quickly on the game that would become his vocation.

"I think football was a big deal to me because in my eyes, as a little kid, it was a manly, masculine game," he says.

Never one to think small, he told his father he would win the Heisman Trophy when he was 7 and crafted a cardboard version of the ring he planned to win in the 2006 Super Bowl. (He would, in fact, fall one game short of playing in that game as a Denver Bronco.)

"He never wanted to do anything else," Dion Foxworth says. Lorinzo had played in high school but hardly pushed his boys toward the sport. He and his wife attended every youth league game, but his sole stab at coaching Domonique ended quickly.

After one run, he told his son that he could have gained 5 more yards if he had juked and cut back to the middle.

"He looked at me with intensity and said, 'Daddy, you're not the one on the football field,' " Lorinzo recalls. "That kind of let me know that he was not just out there playing around. He was a student of the game."

Foxworth inherited the analytical bent from his father, who insisted that every experience, good or bad, be probed for explanations and lessons. It wasn't enough to be happy about a win or sad about a loss. The Foxworths talked about why games had unfolded the way they had.

The family ate dinner together every night, and the Foxworths encouraged their boys to express opinions (even dissenting ones) about the household and the issues of the day. They traveled frequently and watched CNN together. If Karen and Lorinzo hit the streets to help register voters or paint a rundown school, they took their sons along.

But in their quest to produce well-rounded people, the Foxworths never discouraged Domonique's football dreams. In fact, they bristled along with him when a high school teacher said he should take a Duke scholarship because he would never make the NFL and would at least get a good education that way.

"We've never had the 'no, that's not possible' mentality," Lorinzo says.

Western Tech had a new and undistinguished football program when Foxworth arrived. But his talents as a running back, defensive back and kick returner fueled a rapid turnaround from a 1-9 record his sophomore year to 8-2 his junior year. He quickly became one of the area's top recruits and a key early signing in Ralph Friedgen's quest to rebuild Maryland football in 2000.

Foxworth lived up to expectations on the field, making 40 starts for the Terps and earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors twice. But he might have wowed teammates more off the field, where he graduated in 3 1/2 years. Friedgen quipped that Foxworth could run for governor.

His college roommate, wide receiver Steve Suter, still teases Foxworth about his frugality and uncanny maturity.

"I'd say he's a wise spender," Suter says from the couch of his Columbia townhouse, where Foxworth has stopped for an interview. "Wise above his years. He always knew what was going on ahead of time."

Foxworth says he hasn't changed his views since expanding his wallet with NFL earnings.

"Obviously, voting Democrat costs me more money than voting Republican," he says. "Obviously, it's important for me to be successful and earn as much as I can for myself and my family and my kids' kids. But what's also important to me is my community and the people around me. It's difficult to look in the mirror having made a vote based solely on my tax bracket. I can't respect anybody who does that."

The Broncos, impressed with Foxworth's speed, made him a third-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft. In training camp, he latched onto Bailey, an eight-time Pro-Bowl selection and now one of Foxworth's closest friends in the league.

"I definitely warned him, 'I'm going to follow you around and ask you questions all the time,' " Foxworth recalls.

The three-time All-Pro could have brushed him aside, but truth be told, the kid impressed Bailey.

"First of all, he was a lot smarter than the average rookie," Bailey says. "He would get mad because I couldn't always tell him everything he wanted to know right then and there. I said, 'It'll come with experience.' "

Foxworth also bonded with fellow rookie cornerback Darrent Williams.

"We were going through the same thing at the same time," he recalls. "Whatever stresses he might have been feeling, I was feeling them, too. ... So it's kind of like having a twin brother. I think it made that first year a lot easier."

Foxworth hounded veteran wide receiver Rod Smith to bring him into players union meetings. He jokes that he came off as "the fiery young guy" because of the strong opinions he expressed to 10- and 12-year veterans. But he must have impressed them because they voted him onto the union's executive committee after just three seasons. He lists that as one of his proudest accomplishments.

In his first season, Foxworth started seven games, intercepted two passes and made the All-Rookie team as the Broncos reached the AFC championship game. But his second season proved more frustrating. Foxworth failed to earn regular starts at cornerback, and the Broncos asked him to try an unfamiliar position, safety.

Bailey says his friend's inner dissatisfaction never detracted from his outward effort. "He was really tough," Bailey remembers. "He had to play safety, and at 180 pounds, that's not easy."

Then, tragedy rendered football concerns secondary.

Foxworth had dozed off early on New Year's Eve 2006, but a phone call from Bailey woke him at 4:30 a.m. Williams had been shot and killed outside a local club, Bailey told his friend.

Foxworth drove to the hospital in a daze, uncertain whether he should be crying. In the weeks ahead, he fumed at news reports that questioned Williams' lifestyle.

"I stopped watching TV for about a month with the exception of TLC or Nickelodeon, where I knew there wouldn't be anything about it," he says. "Because it got under my skin. ... I knew him, and people who were telling these stories that painted him as some thug who just ran fast enough to get into the NFL, it would eat away at me."

The Boys and Girls Club had provided a refuge for Williams at times when his life seemed about to go off track. Foxworth not only helped the Denver club establish a new center for teenagers in Williams' name, but he also taught a weekly writing class for the kids.

The center's opening was an emotional turning point. "I felt like that was the first time that I could hear Darrent's name or say Darrent's name and smile," Foxworth says. "While that teen center isn't going to replace him in my life or his family's life, it's going to put something in the lives of thousands of kids over the years that is going to do more good than Darrent could have in his entire life."

He still calls Williams' mother on her birthday and on his fallen teammate's birthday.

Foxworth's football fortunes in Denver did not turn around. Though it hurt him to cut his ties to the Denver community when he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons last season, the move liberated Foxworth professionally.

Removed from Bailey's shadow, he played the best ball of his career. His tenure with the Falcons made him a top-five cornerback in this year's free-agent pool, and it just so happened that Foxworth's hometown team needed a starter at the position.

When Foxworth spoke with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, he sensed a kindred spirit. "He was taking notes," the cornerback says with an approving nod. "So there's that attention to detail. It ends up demanding more from your players if they see you in that same light. They have to respond in the same way. It fits right into the way I've been raised and the way I've conducted my career."

He loved the idea of a blitzing defense that would put enormous pressure on him to cover receivers one-on-one. That's how the Broncos played during his stellar rookie season. Foxworth had also heard about the obsessive film-watching habits of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and other Ravens defenders. It was another selling point for a player who likes to spend three or four hours a night rewinding and fast-forwarding through game tapes.

"I can't wait," he says. "That's something I've always liked, and I've never had as strong a team of film watchers as I'll have here."

It added up to a pretty easy decision for the young man from Randallstown, who showed his enthusiasm by bringing much of his family to his contract announcement. (His parents have moved with him to his first two NFL stops but plan to stay in Atlanta, save for Ravens game days.)

Bailey, who knows a thing or two about the position, says Foxworth will thrive as a full-time starter. "Oh yeah, he'll be great for a long time," he says. "He's a model citizen. He's from that area. How could it be any better?"

Given his personality and roots, Foxworth should become a popular Raven. But he knows the hometown love will be fleeting if he does not play well.

"I know the Baltimore fans well," he says. "If I don't perform, they won't be my fans. But I am good, so I don't worry about losing the support of the people."

Domonique Foxworth

Position: Cornerback

Height: 5-11 Weight: 180 pounds

Birth date: March 27, 1983

College: Maryland

High school: Western Tech, where he was Sun first-team All-Metro and All-Baltimore County

Hometown: Randallstown

Career: Drafted by the Broncos in the third round (97th overall) of 2005 NFL draft; played three seasons in Denver before being traded Sept. 2, 2008, to the Atlanta Falcons. Played one season with the Falcons before signing with the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent Feb. 17.

Highlights: Has played in 60 games, making 28 starts, recording 177 tackles and intercepting four passes.

Source: Ravens

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