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Lamar Jackson’s breakout MVP season an inspiration to Baltimore-area youth players

Highlights from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson's MVP season.

When Lenie Lockett first heard her son talking about “breaking ankles,” she was concerned. But it wasn’t long before Lamar Jackson showed her exactly what Julian was saying.

Lockett and her husband, Gabriel, traveled to Cincinnati for the highlight of what became Jackson’s MVP season. After streaking and juking past several Bengals, the Ravens’ second-year quarterback evaded two more with a spin, sprinting the final 30 yards into the end zone.

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The 47-yard touchdown was one of Jackson’s 44 for the season, a campaign recognized Saturday as the first in Ravens history worthy of NFL Most Valuable Player honors. And it was only one part of a year that inspired youth football players throughout Baltimore.

Julian Lockett, now 12, spent his first year playing football this past fall as a running back and middle linebacker for the Mid-Maryland Youth Football and Cheerleading League’s 11-and-under East Howard County team. Even though he wasn’t a quarterback, that didn’t stop him from trying to use Jackson’s moves on his 7-year-old sister, Ariana, during games of tag, trying to, well, break her ankles.

“I hadn't even heard the term,” Lenie Lockett said. “Like, what, break your ankles? I didn't realize that's what the spin moves entailed. To me, it sounds dangerous, so I learned something new.

“I think seeing somebody like Lamar really inspired him to try to play with all these little trick moves. I think it's just got him more excited to watch football in general. He's been more eager to just be outside and play more with his friends."

Jackson, who turned 23 in January, has offered some lessons beyond his play on the field. Before the season began, Andrea Curtis and her two sons, Sean and Bryan, attended the Jameel McClain Football & Fitness Clinic at Frederick Douglass High School. McClain, the Ravens’ director of player engagement, hosts the clinic yearly as part of his 53 Families Foundation.

As the children worked through drills that June day, a surprise guest arrived. Bryan, the quarterback of the the Mid-Maryland league’s 8-and-under team in Pikesville, began yelling excitedly toward his mom in the bleachers.

“Mom! Mom!” called Bryan, pointing toward Jackson. “Look! Look!”

Soon, the boys took part in drills run by Jackson. At the end of the day, he spoke to the group and took pictures with several of them, including the Curtis brothers. His message stuck with Bryan.

"Never give up and keep on working and grinding,” the 9-year-old remembered Jackson saying. “Work hard.”

Jackson practiced what he preached. Coming off a rookie year in which he led the Ravens to the playoffs but regularly had his passing ability questioned, Jackson spent the offseason training to improve in that area, and it showed in his sophomore season. He led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes, setting a franchise record.

Andrea Curtis is grateful to have such a terrific example of “hard work pays off” so close to the family’s Owings Mills home and her boys’ interests, allowing Bryan to soak in that message.

“It’s something that he can touch,” she said. “To just have that positive influence right here … They both want to play in the NFL, ‘I wanna be that one day.’ It seems like a far reach because it’s not right here, but then you have a great role model such as Lamar Jackson that’s in your city, that’s playing for your favorite team, that you physically touched and took a picture with and you met.

“You never know, one day you could be standing where Lamar was that Saturday at Frederick Douglass talking to the next generation coming up behind you.”

Jackson’s play led to plenty of mimicry. Luke Rush, who played quarterback for Perry Hall’s 14-and-under Gold team in the Upper Chesapeake Youth Football League, spent many halftimes outside with his older brothers, trying to copy whatever juke or throw Jackson showed off in the first half. Sometimes, he would work them into games, too.

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“He always looks like he’s having fun, and I try to have fun when I play,” Rush said. “I try to mimic some of his spins and jukes, and I like to throw sidearm sometimes just like him.”

It goes beyond Jackson’s style. Andrea Curtis makes sure her sons watch Jackson’s interviews so they can see how he credits his teammates for what went well and takes responsibility for what didn’t. Tom Rush, Luke’s father, always tries to stress sportsmanship and humility, and the example Jackson provides helps cement those lessons.

There are the nuances, too. The Rushes had the chance to visit a Ravens practice at the team’s Owings Mills facility. As players came out, the fans in attendance formed two lines, creating a path for them to run through.

“Some of these guys are coming by, some are shaking hands, some aren't, but Lamar came down one side, and then he went back up and then came down the other side,” Tom Rush said. “He really knows how to make his fans happy and also be a good role model in that way.”

With the area’s youth watching, Jackson has shown there’s more than one way to be valuable.

“It’s such an encouragement that, hey, this is real,” Andrea Curtis said. “'I can be that one day. I can do the things he’s done because he’s shown us.' ”

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