Todd Tahj Roberts and the rest of his teammates on the Woodlawn High School football team had braced themselves for Tuesday’s conditioning test requiring a 100-yard sprint to be completed in fewer than 16 seconds — 10 times, no less.
But when the coaching staff ordered the players to walk the first lap, something didn’t seem right. And when the coaches had the players run only 50 yards, something smelled fishy.
It wasn’t until four Ravens cheerleaders and a large Ravens bus pulled up to the school at about 10:30 a.m. that coach Elwood Townsend finally let his players in on the surprise.
The conditioning test was a ruse, and the players were being treated to a tour of M&T Bank Stadium, an introduction to their new uniforms provided by Under Armour and free passes to that day’s joint training camp practice with the Ravens and the Los Angeles Rams.
“I think everybody’s jaw just dropped,” said Tahj Roberts, a senior wide receiver. “We weren’t expecting that at all.”
The Warriors had earned new jerseys after posting the fastest time during a NFL scouting combine-style competition between Baltimore-area high schools during halftime of 2017 regular-season home games. Five players combined to finish the course in 30.85 seconds when they competed against Lake Clifton at halftime of the Ravens’ Dec. 23 game.
In January, Ravens marketing and football outreach manager Matt Little contacted Townsend, the Baltimore Sun’s 2012 All-Metro Coach of the Year, about cooking up a more elaborate scheme.
“We wanted to let them know that not only do their coaches and school care about them, but the Ravens care about them, too,” Little said. “They were totally blown away. It was a great team-building experience for them.”
Townsend, who said keeping the secret was “kind of tough,” told his assistants about the plan only a couple weeks ago. He waited until Tuesday morning to inform the parents via email.
After touring M&T Bank Stadium, the Woodlawn players were escorted to the locker room, where each of their new jerseys were hanging inside a locker used by the Ravens. Former tight end Dennis Pitta added to the surprise by modeling the new uniform and telling them about their expected attendance at practice.
Thirty-six players (two were absent) formed a tunnel stretching from a door behind the team’s complex to the practice fields. Ravens and Rams players were greeted by thunderous applause, loud whooping and outstretched hands for high-fives.
Senior slot receiver Joel Turner Rodgers, who had a playful moment with Rams cornerback Aqib Talib, said he still couldn’t believe what happened.
“I was expecting practice and then going home,” he said. “I didn’t expect all this. This is crazy.”
Rams linebacker Micah Kiser, who grew up in Woodlawn and graduated from Gilman, was delighted to see the football team.
“It's really wild coming out here and playing here,” said Kiser, whose uncle Anthony runs a track and field program called the Woodlawn Track Pack. “It’s crazy, considering I grew up here.”
Tahj Roberts, who had been drinking water all week to get as light as possible for the conditioning test, predicted that none of his teammates would forget the day.
“This gives us extra motivation,” he said. “Everyone is looking to the season. We want to perform in our new jerseys.”
Soaking it all in was Townsend, standing to the side and beaming like a proud father.
“Anything that will make them smile is a great day for me,” he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jonas Shaffer contributed to this article.