Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens

Ravens QB Tyler Huntley has inspired faith in older teammates since rec-league days: ‘There was just something about him’

Dameon Jones remains convinced that a sprained ankle cost him a Florida 5A state title. That’s how good Tyler Huntley was as a senior at Hallandale High School.

“We just didn’t think he could play,” Jones recalled, letting his mind drift back six years to the last days he spent coaching Huntley. “All week in practice, he couldn’t put any weight on it.”

Advertisement

Huntley did suit up, and though he could not take a step to his left or right, he threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns; it just was not quite enough to hold off mighty Orlando Bishop Moore in a 51-46 shootout.

“I know if he would have been healthy, we would have won that game,” Jones said, the regret still obvious in his tone.

Advertisement

Another sprained ankle, this one afflicting Huntley’s former high school rival, Lamar Jackson, has thrust the Ravens backup quarterback into a brighter spotlight on a larger stage. When Jackson limped off the field in Cleveland last Sunday, it became Huntley’s job to rally the Ravens from a 24-3 deficit, and he nearly did in a 24-22 loss. Now, he’s waiting to find out if he will start in Jackson’s place against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers, a decision that could come “down to wire” in the words of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

If Jackson cannot go, the Ravens will feel they have a chance with Huntley at the controls.

“You don’t see any nervousness about him,” veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “He makes some plays. He’s putting us in great situations. He’s showed that he can be a starter in this game. He definitely has the skill set, and I definitely believe in him.”

Huntley, 23, has inspired that kind of faith since he was a shy, scrawny kid slinging passes across the fields of football-mad Broward County. Older athletes followed him like he was born for it.

“I just love football, and I know that the older guys love football a lot, because they’ve been around it a long time,” he said Friday after taking a week’s worth of starter reps in preparation for the Packers. “I feel like that’s what, really, it comes down to.”

Jones was trying to build something special at Hallandale, his alma mater, and he knew he wanted Huntley, who grew up about 10 minutes away in Hollywood, Florida. The other kids already called him “Snoop” because of his resemblance to the rapper Snoop Dogg, a moniker that has stuck.

“He was freaking 5-foot-7, 130 pounds, but you could tell there was just something about him,” Jones recalled. “He didn’t say much. He would just smile at you. But even at that age, he could throw the ball.”

He talked to Ricky and Regina Huntley about their son and liked everything he heard from the churchgoing parents who had taught Tyler to go at his endeavors seriously.

Advertisement

The Huntleys would later tell a reporter at the Deseret News how they had given Tyler a new football for Christmas every single year and how, at age 3, he was already raising eyebrows in the local YMCA league with the way he zipped past the 4- and 5-year-olds.

He played right away as a freshman at Hallandale, and the program rose with him. His showdowns with Jackson — a loss his sophomore year and a 2-point win his junior year — became the stuff of legend once they joined forces on the Ravens. Jackson was the larger, faster, flashier prospect. Huntley was, in the minds of his advocates, a purer passer.

The Chargers didn’t have a backup quarterback, so Jones urged him to stay in the pocket and avoid hits, advice that Huntley, who’s plenty elusive in his own right, resisted.

The statistics he reeled off as a senior bordered on absurdity — 468 yards and four touchdowns one week, 515 yards and seven touchdowns the next. Jones had not tinkered much with his spread offense; Huntley had simply grown into a masterful conductor, surrounded by a bevy of Division I-caliber receivers and ball carriers. Gatorade named him Player of the Year in talent-rich Florida.

“He put fear in people’s hearts down here,” Jones said.

Even so, big-time recruiters did not flock after him. They saw his skinny, 5-foot-11 frame and moved on in search of a 6-foot-4 prototype. It did not matter how many games or showcase camps he dominated.

Advertisement

“If he would have been 6-foot-1, like he is now, I think it would have changed things drastically,” Jones said. “The University of Miami, I know those guys who were there at that time … and we laugh about it today. I tell them, ‘You guys got fired at Miami because you didn’t take Tyler.’”

The lack of attention bothered Huntley at the time. “I knew what I could do as a person; that’s what really made me mad,” he said. “But as you get older, you just start to realize everything happens for a reason, and everything is played day by day.”

Former NFL and University of Miami head coach Dennis Erickson, who was working on Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah, saw something different from Huntley’s film. “This is an NFL guy,” he told Jones, who had tried everything he could to sell Huntley to coaches around the country.

Huntley moved west with a pair of high school teammates, wide receiver Demari Simpkins and running back Zack Moss, and they became known as the “Hallandale Trio” for the Utes, claiming Nos. 1, 2 and 3 to hammer home the point.

Again, the team’s record improved right along with Huntley, going from 7-6 his sophomore year to 11-3 his senior year, when he threw for 3,092 yards and 19 touchdowns and was named Co-Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig fell in love with him as a fellow “football junkie.”

Advertisement

Whittingham learned not to doubt him and sent Huntley a congratulatory text after he rallied the Ravens to victory against the Chicago Bears in his first NFL start.

“He’s one of the most competitive and toughest kids that’s ever come through here,” the Utah coach said. “It doesn’t surprise me the success he is having because he is driven. He is absolutely a football junkie and just loves everything about the game. Every minute of every day he is doing something to make himself better.”

NFL scouts, however, revived the same old doubts Huntley had heard in high school, labeling him a fringe draft prospect because of his slight frame and the injuries that sidelined him for stretches of his sophomore and junior years.

As Huntley watched the picks slip away, Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban called him during the seventh round, alerting him to the team’s interest. The Ravens moved quickly to sign him as an undrafted free agent. After a few practices, they knew they had another overlooked treasure.

“Really early on — really early on,” Roman said. “I just kind of noticed him doing some routine things, and I loved his attitude. I loved how his mind worked, and that goes a lot into it, too. It really does.”

Even with the 2020 preseason canceled because of COVID-19, Huntley forced his way into competition with Trace McSorley, a more lauded college player who had a year’s head start learning the Ravens offense. His propensity for connecting on deep throws was hard to miss.

Advertisement

“Obviously, he’s a really good athlete, hard worker and talented guy,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But you could see that he could spin it. That’s kind of where it starts for a quarterback. So, when we saw that in person, we felt like we had something to work with.”

McSorley stayed a step ahead of Huntley in the pecking order last year but could not hold him off going into this season. Huntley sealed the deal when he passed for 285 yards and four touchdowns in the preseason finale against the Washington Football Team.

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Weekly

Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

After the win in Chicago and the near-comeback in Cleveland, he’s a made man who could play a vital role as the Ravens cling to their position atop the AFC North.

“We trust ‘Snoop’ just as much as we trust Lamar,” wide receiver Rashod Bateman said. “So, when ‘Snoop’s’ time is up, he gives us confidence, we give him confidence, and then we take it from there.”

Week 15

PACKERS@RAVENS

Advertisement

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Packers by 6 ½


Advertisement