Ray Lewis gives coaches insight into his football growth

Ray Lewis was overlooked.

Or so that’s how the former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens frames his own development from an undersized rover in high school to an NFL All-Pro.

In high school, a teammate needed to break their jaw for him to start as a sophomore.

At Miami, he was a svelte freshman shorter and lighter than his hulking peers that evolved into a first-round draft pick in 1996.

“I worked my butt off, and if somebody took a break, if you slacked off, I might take your job,” Lewis said. “That’s what competition is.”

In front of high school and college coaches during the LSU Football Coaches Clinic on Friday morning, the ever-intense and wired Lewis, now an analyst with ESPN, made an appeal on the main stage inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“We need to look for hidden gems,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who retired after winning his second Super Bowl in 2013, passed along his usual message: Coaches need to nurture players the respect the essence and roots of the game, which will set the tenor of the locker room based on shared sacrifice but also show empathy and compassion. For Lewis it became the center of his worldview.

From giving up red meat, forsaking swearing, and addressing coaches with the honorific of ‘Sir,’ Lewis’s end goal was to respect the game. And it started with the notion that he had to create his own breaks.

As a freshman at Miami, he left a cafeteria while his teammates ate and ran into a coach on the Hurricanes staff. He was asked why he wasn’t chowing down with his peers.

“I don’t want to eat what they’re serving in there,” Lewis answered. “I’m trying to start.”

“You’re a freshman,” the coach told him.

“I know, but I got visions,” Lewis said.

Finding players with that certainty that starts in their gut and defines their effort is what coaches need to hone in on when they try to build a roster, Lewis said.

“That’s what you as coaches are looking for,” Lewis said. “That’s what’s going to carry your program.”

Lewis laid out seven things coaches can do to foster players with those traits, but he spent over seven minutes parsing on the notion that fear and pain can be the best instructors.

The linebacker, a devout Christian, often talks of events almost being ordained before they happen. And in his final season, a Super Bowl run was envisioned.

Famously, Lewis tore his triceps in an October game at the Dallas Cowboys, underwent surgery and sat out for 11 weeks before rejoining the Ravens for their playoff run that ended in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“The only thing that defeats pains is recognizing it exists in our lives,” he said.

In a setting where coaches sit in highly technical breakout sessions, Lewis’ hour-long speech hewed more toward trying to tilt worldviews and philosophies toward the job.

Boiled down, Lewis said the objective requires balancing short-term demands against the longer-term end game of why coaches get into the profession.

“Wins and losses can dictate our jobs, sometimes they can get us hired and fired,” Lewis said. “But what actually dictates the bottom line and what dictates your legacy?”