From Machado love to Ravens rooms, Rams bring a Maryland flavor to preseason game

Running back Todd Gurley forgot about the humidity.

A Baltimore native, Gurley had to endure sweltering, sticky summers growing up, just like any Marylander. Since he’s been a Los Angeles Ram, he’s relished the reliably dry heat of his new home. But his two seasons in the city left him unprepared for the predictable early-August weather of Owings Mills.

“I didn’t know it was so bad here,” the star running back said Tuesday afternoon, after the second of two joint practices with the Ravens. “That’s what happens — you forget. You try to forget.”

Gurley is one of a handful of Marylanders on the Rams’ roster, adding a little local flavor to both sidelines of Thursday’s preseason meeting at M&T Bank Stadium. Safety Blake Countess is from Owings Mills. Offensive tackle Rob Havenstein is a Mount Airy native and played at Linganore in Frederick County. Rookie linebacker Micah Kiser grew up in Woodlawn and starred at Gilman. Even special teams coordinator John Fassel used to serve as a Ravens assistant more than a decade ago.

The Rams last visited Baltimore in 2015 — the franchise’s final season in St. Louis — which means this week is a rare opportunity for Gurley and his teammates to see their home state on football business. To Gurley, though, it doesn’t really feel like he is home, and not just because he moved to Tarboro, N.C., as a teenager.

“It’s training camp, so it's another town, honestly,” he said. “But we got my family out here. It’s cool to see them and stuff and play some football.”

Gurley has said he grew up a Ravens fan, looking up to Ed Reed, Jamal Lewis and Willis McGahee. But Los Angeles has won his heart.

“Pretty fun town. I mean, you get LeBron [James] there, the Dodgers, Angels, Chargers, Rams, Kings, Mike Trout,” Gurley said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Another new star in Los Angeles: Manny Machado. Less than a year after Gurley, an Orioles fan, implored the team’s then-star infielder to remain in Baltimore — “Machado don’t leave bro,” he tweeted in December — he acknowledged that he was at least happy to have him in Dodger blue.

“It was exciting for me,” Gurley said. “All we need is to get Adam Jones to come over there. Completely fine. Always been a big fan of Manny. Glad New York didn’t get him.”

One of Gurley’s leading blockers, Havenstein, Los Angeles’ starting right tackle, was more sentimental about coming home. Don’t ask him how long of a drive it is from Mount Airy to Owings Mills — “Oh, God. Everyone keeps asking me that question” — but rest assured that Maryland is never far from his thoughts.

Staying in the Rams’ hotel in Baltimore has stirred childhood memories: of visits to the Inner Harbor, of field trips to Annapolis, of the awful humidity.

“It's always just home to me,” Havenstein said. “It's just kind of special, just being away for a while and coming back and kind of seeing some of the places I kind of remember driving around.”

He hung around after practice Tuesday to catch up with family members and other familiar faces. Three high school football teammates showed up, as did a high school basketball teammate. It can feel like old times, but not like a summer vacation, Havenstein said. Out of season, a stint in Maryland might send him on a trip down memory lane. In season, the only thing he should be doing is improving.

“This is obviously a little different,” he said. “This is a business trip. … There's not a lot of time.”

Kiser, a fifth-round draft pick, knows Ravens training camp well. As of this year, he’s been to more of them than he has Rams training camps.

That was during his days as a fan, of course. When the Ravens prepared for the regular season at McDaniel College in Westminster, Kiser went a couple of times. He met Reed and Todd Heap. He watched Ray Lewis. He got autographs.

“It was awesome,” he said.

His parents, Michael and Donna, came to practice Tuesday. More than anyone else, they can appreciate how far he’s come, from Ravens diehard to Ravens opponent. For his sixth birthday, Kiser said, they gave him a present he still sees whenever he pops in back home: a purple, black and gold room.

Over time, his fandom subsided. He last tweeted about the team two years ago. The Ravens memorabilia in his room did not make the cross-country trip to Los Angeles. He said he hasn’t even watched Ray Lewis’ Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, his team commitments having gotten in the way.

“But it's Ray Lewis,” Kiser said. “He's going to be passionate. You know what to expect. So I'm not shocked that he sweated through his jacket.”

He couldn’t have expected how neatly his past would fold into his new NFL career. On Tuesday, he spotted a Woodlawn Warriors football team at practice. (Kiser played for a Catonsville team, but his uncle, Anthony Kiser, runs the Woodlawn Track Pack team.) On Thursday, his first appearance in an NFL game will come under the familiar lights of a venue he still calls “Ravens Stadium.”

“It's a stadium I grew up, obviously, going to games at and dreaming of playing in,” he said. “So for my first game to be there is awesome.”

Rams players with Maryland ties

Todd Gurley

Position: Running back

Age: 24

Hometown: Baltimore

Stats: 1,305 rushing yards, 788 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns in 2017

Rob Havenstein

Position: Right tackle

Age: 26

Hometown: Mount Airy

Stats: Starts in all 43 career games in which he's seen action at tackle

Micah Kiser

Position: Inside linebacker

Age: 23

Hometown: Woodlawn

Stats: 411 career tackles at Virginia, fifth most in program history

Blake Countess

Position: Strong safety

Age: 25

Hometown: Owings Mills

Stats: 25 tackles, one interception and one pass defended in 16 games in 2017

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

kfominykh@baltsun.com

twitter.com/katfominykh

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°