The 2015 regular season over, a professional career months away, Ronnie Stanley went to Ge Wang to talk about a suit.
Stanley had an idea for how to wow a red carpet, like the one he walked down Thursday in Chicago at the NFL draft. His vision: white and gold, like the colors of Notre Dame — whose football team he had anchored as a senior, where he had developed into perhaps the top offensive tackle prospect in the country.
"I'm just like, 'What?' " recalled Wang, a Fighting Irish supporter, founder of the Chicago-based bespoke-suit company ESQ Clothing and, in that moment, disappointed fan of the consensus All-American. "We had to talk him down."
What they came up with was "definitely Ronnie," friends told him. Black dress pants. Black bowtie. White-and-gold paisley Scabal tuxedo jacket. White leather dress shoes — size 16 — with gold studs.
It was part Las Vegas, part Notre Dame and all Stanley, the Ravens' No. 6 overall pick and presumptive left tackle of the future. The Fighting Irish's departing "tough gentleman," as coach Brian Kelly called him, knew what he wanted. He just needed a little guidance getting there.
"He's not there to soak up the spotlight, but he wants it," Wang said. "He wants something that can really express his personality. I mean, he's from a city with bright lights and everything."
That Stanley would end up in Baltimore on Friday, answering questions about criticism of his game ("I don't take it personally at all"), his openness to playing guard ("I can handle it") and the responsibility of safeguarding Joe Flacco ("I'm very honored to be given the opportunity to block for him"), was not preordained. But it was prophesied by some.
Before flashbulbs popped and people asked who he was wearing Thursday, before commissioner Roger Goodell called his name and he tugged on a Ravens cap, Stanley was an unlikely three-sport standout.
Ravens first-round draft pick Ronnie Stanley, an offensive lineman from Notre Dame, talks with reporters at the team’s Owings Mills facilities. (Kevin Richardson)
Basketball was his first love, and on a high school team featuring Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA, Minnesota Timberwolves), Rosco Allen (Stanford), Ben Carter (UNLV) and Rashad Muhammad (San Jose State, Miami), he averaged nearly a double double. He could've played in Division I, his coach said.
In volleyball, simply by dint of his coordination and determination, he became an all-conference honoree — in his first season playing the sport.
But it was football that brought the college coaches in droves to Bishop Gorman, the Catholic prep powerhouse in Sin City. Gaels coach Tony Sanchez would tell the recruiters who asked about Stanley that he was a "Sunday guy" — as in, if Stanley practiced hard enough, if he fortified his work ethic, he'd be playing on that day of the week before long.
Because Stanley had a frame that would sprout to 6 feet 6 and 312 pounds, he became an offensive lineman under Sanchez. It was not for a lack of shake-and-bake.
During an alumni 7-on-7 game before Stanley's senior year, Sanchez lined him up at wide receiver. Stanley ran backside post routes. He caught touchdowns. He moved in ways that defied common sense.
We laughed all the time: Ronnie could've been an all-state tight end and probably caught 60 balls.
Stanley's high school coach (and current UNLV coach) coach Tony Sanchez
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"We laughed all the time: Ronnie could've been an all-state tight end and probably caught 60 balls," said Sanchez, now the coach at UNLV. "Athletically, he's a 1-percenter."
That became apparent in South Bend. He played sparingly as a true freshman before stepping into the starting right tackle role as a sophomore. When All-American left tackle Zack Martin left for the NFL, Stanley moved over. Little changed. As Martin became an All-Pro in his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, Stanley did OK, too: one sack allowed and 16 knockdown blocks in 13 games.
Stanley passed on the NFL draft, fulfilling a promise to his mother to graduate, but everything he did before his senior season was professionally done. From the locker room to the classroom to practice, Martin had advised him, hold yourself to a higher standard, an NFL standard.
"He certainly had the talent, but to play on Sunday, you have to have so many other things," Kelly said. "You have to do the right things off the field, you have to be committed in terms of your physical development and how you take care of yourself, but there's no question that when we talk about Sunday, he had the ability."
His senior season revealed a prospect who was ready in some ways and still lacking in others.
When Showtime released a trailer for an episode of its documentary-style show "A Season With Notre Dame," it included a clip of Kelly explaining that Stanley would not be a captain for the upcoming season. The explanation — slightly less explosive than, say, a gas-mask-bong video — would not have made for great TV. "Parking reasons," Stanley explained later, "but I can't say anything else. My teammates and my coaches know there's no character issue wrong with me."
Finding fault with his on-field performance was just as difficult. He struggled, in monsoon-like conditions, against Clemson, but he had just one negatively graded game in pass protection all season and finished with the fourth-highest pass-blocking efficiency against Power Five conference competition, according to Pro Football Focus.
Anonymous scouts and draft analysts have dinged him for his "mean streak," straining to know its whereabouts and how he would handle the pressure-cooker intensity of the pros. The passion is there, Sanchez and Kelly stressed, but not visible to all.
"I respect the game of football," Stanley said at the Ravens' facility Thursday. "I really appreciate it and know the values that it really builds character for each and every person that plays it."
In his senior year at Bishop Gorman, Stanley dislocated his elbow in a late-season game. Off he went in an ambulance, his night ended painfully and prematurely. When Sanchez looked over to the sideline later that night, there was Stanley, promising to return. Entering the state final, he was "basically a one-arm guy," Sanchez said, but he wanted to play, demanded to play, so he did.
Four years later, before the Fighting Irish played Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes suspended their starting defensive tackle. Joey Bosa, a defensive end, was forced inside, away from Stanley. They might have met eventually, the draft's top defensive end and offensive tackle selections doing battle on New Year's Day, but Bosa was ejected in the first quarter.
"Ronnie, being the competitor that he is, was certainly disappointed that he didn't get a chance to match up against Joey," Kelly said. "Ronnie always relishes those opportunities."
Those close to Stanley say he must now grow to meet his sky-high professional expectations without losing the good-hearted personality that has grounded him. Can the guy who five years ago ran around a Bishop Gorman youth football camp in a too-small Batman cape handle the superhuman speed and quickness of NFL defensive ends? How will an off-field "teddy bear," as he's sometimes affectionately described, prosper in a league of snarling beasts?
Stanley moves fluidly and thinks quickly, but ahead of his first season in Baltimore, he can stand to get a little bulkier. At least, that used to be the case. In between his first fitting near the end of Notre Dame's season and Thursday's grand reveal in Chicago, Wang said, Stanley's bespoke suit "came in a little snug."
"I mean, I wish he didn't gain a little weight," Wang said, "but everything turned out well."