When Kiero Small left Valley Forge Military Academy after one arduous semester -- he grew tired of 4 a.m. reveille -- he thought his football career might be over.
The former Cardinal Gibbons standout fullback and linebacker returned home to Baltimore and worked a year for his father at his T-shirt shop near Lexington Market on Saratoga.
"I missed football," Small said. "I knew I had to find a way to play again."
So Small scraped together the funds to buy a plane ticket to California and enrolled at Hartnell Junior College, where be became an All-American fullback. He then signed with Arkansas and emerged as a rugged lead blocker for the Razorbacks. He broke several facemasks with his collisions.
Now, Small is a member of the Ravens' practice squad after signing his contract this week. He was cut by the Cleveland Browns after starting three games. The Northeast Baltimore native is overjoyed to join his hometown NFL team.
"It's been a long road to get here, so I'm really happy to be home," Small said in a telephone interview. "I've rooted for the Ravens my whole life. It's a good fit for me to be here.
"Everybody I went to school with back in Baltimore that watched me grow up has been calling. My cousin used to pull for the Ravens, but then he was cheering for the Browns when I was there. Now, he's a Ravens fan again."
Small was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the sevenh round in May, but was released by the Super Bowl champions before the start of the regular season. He then joined the Browns and briefly replaced fullback Ray Agnew as the starter. After clearing waivers, Small got the call from the Ravens.
"I've got three starts under my belt, so that's good," Small said. "The Browns gave me that chance and I have that experience."
Small is a stout presence at 5-foot-8, 245 pounds. He rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns as a senior at Arkansas and caught 19 passes for 128 yards.
Small is familiar with the Ravens having participated in their local prospects day before the draft.
"I met the running backs coach, Thomas Hammock, when I visited and talked to him and he's a good guy," Small said. "I got to know him a little bit, so that's good to already know your position coach."
The Ravens, who have former All-Ivy League selection Kyle Juszczyk as their starter, have a long tradition at fullback that includes Sam Gash, Alan Ricard, Lorenzo Neal and Vonta Leach.
"They have that history of awesome fullbacks," Small said. "It's great to be a part of that."
Unlike most newcomers, Small doesn't have to worry about finding a place to live.
"It's nice not to have to think about that," Small said. "I'm just going to stay with my family. It's great to know you can get a home-cooked meal."