MIAMI — Wearing her late godson's purple Ravens jersey, Dionne Pollock stood on the stage at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Friday evening and asked those in attendance to lift their heads and wipe away their tears.
Tray Walker "did not live a sad life," Pollock said. "Trust me, you're holding your head up for Tray."
Pollock recalled Walker, then an underclassman at Miami Northwestern Senior High, sitting across from her at a Denny's restaurant and saying that he didn't think he'd graduate from high school. Several years later, she remembered Walker's unmistakable smile after he got his diploma from Texas Southern University not long after the Ravens made him a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft.
"There was nothing sad at all about Tray's life," Pollock said, proudly showing off Walker's No. 25 jersey and a Ravens pendant she was wearing.
The young cornerback died on March 18, a day after his motorbike collided with an SUV at a northern Miami intersection not far from Walker's childhood home. He was 23.
Several hundred people, including friends, family members, and current and former teammates, came to the Northwest 58th Street church to pay their respects to someone who overcame a tough childhood and had only one college scholarship offer, yet made it to the NFL. Walker played in eight games as a Ravens rookie, and as he trained this offseason, he told friends and family members that he was eyeing a starting cornerback role for the team in 2016.
Many of those who gathered at the church had T-shirts adorned with Walker's image and quotes like, "Ball in Heaven," "Gone but not forgotten," and "Long Live, Tray." Several wore purple or had Ravens hats or T-shirts.
Walker's casket was decorated with pictures from his rookie season, and had his name, number and nickname inscribed on it. Teammates called him "Fresh Kidd" because of his love of fashion.
Helmets of the Ravens, Texas Southern and Miami Northwestern sat atop a floral arrangement, and banners that said "Ravens Nation" decorated the church. Three television monitors carrying a slideshow of images from Walker's life surrounded the seating area.
"He died on my birthday," said Shaquita Hardy, Walker's sister. "It hurts so bad."
Nearby, University of Miami assistant director of player personnel/recruiting operations Jorge Baez scrolled through his phone and read a long text message chain between he and Walker, who he recruited when he was an assistant at Lambuth University in Tennessee.
"Just a great kid," Baez said. "I remember his words: 'Coach, I can't wait to get out of here and get to [school].'"
Ravens defensive backs Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine and Matt Elam were among the players who were at the viewing. Former Ravens safety Brynden Trawick, who signed with the Oakland Raiders earlier this month, was also in attendance.
Many more players are expected to attend Walker's funeral Saturday at 1 p.m. at the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church in Miami. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has arranged for a charter flight out of Baltimore on Saturday so that executives, coaches and teammates can attend.