By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Like tens of thousands of impressionable younger brothers, 6-year-old Keon Lattimore would follow his big brother out to the backyard for some football pointers. And like tens of thousands of older brothers, Ray Lewis -- nine years older, already a young man -- would cooperate, handing Lattimore a football and sending him off toward the other boys in the backyard. "Just run into 'em," Ray Lewis would say. "Go hit somebody."
More than a decade later, Lattimore is again wandering onto Ray Lewis's field of play. The Maryland sophomore is part of a stable of running backs expected to be used Saturday against Navy -- at night, under the lights, on the same M&T Bank Stadium turf claimed by the Ravens' all-pro linebacker. Lattimore has sat in a skybox on the 50-yard line and watched his brother play countless times in that purple-
infused stadium; now Lewis will be the spectator and Lattimore the performer. And the older brother's injunction this time is equally demanding.
"He knows the situation, I know the situation," Lattimore, 21, said. "We talked about it a long time ago. And now that the time has come, it's just, 'You know what you've got to do, little bro.' "
Lattimore, of course, has been hearing such instructions and the inevitable comparisons to Lewis since those backyard games. That talk accelerated when Lewis became a high school star in Florida and then at the University of Miami.
When Lewis was being interviewed by men holding television cameras, he'd point to Lattimore and tout his advancing skills. The cameras would turn, and the new question would be, "Well, what do you have to say about that, little brother?" Lattimore recalled.
Even after Lewis became an NFL star and relocated his mother and siblings from Florida to Maryland, Lattimore was convinced he'd follow his brother's path to Miami, which recruited him as a defensive back. He even told Mike Working, his coach at Mount St. Joseph High, that he didn't want to be recruited by any other schools, that he bled orange.
"But as I got older I got tired of being in my brother's shadow, you know?" Lattimore said. "I wanted my own name. I wanted my own fame."
The name is not a problem; the brothers had different fathers and thus different last names, a fact that never diminished their relationship. The fame, though, is a different issue, and not just because of the brothers' resemblance.
In high school basketball and football games, "everybody knew who Keon's brother was," Working said. "Everybody in Baltimore knows who Keon's brother is."
Nothing changed during a year of post-secondary school at Hargrave Military Academy, where Lattimore went after failing to get a qualifying SAT score.
"Kids would play against him harder," Hargrave Coach Robert Prunty said. "When people know that your brother is Ray Lewis, everybody wants to get a hit on you."
If that's the inevitable result of their relationship, though, Lattimore is not complaining. He calls his relationship with Lewis a blend of father-son and older brother-younger brother, a dynamic that has existed since they were children, when they were together constantly.
Lewis would bring Lattimore not just to his football games; he would take him on his early dates with girls, to the movies or to a skating rink. And before he became a millionaire, Lewis still brought his younger brother gifts, snagging him extra football gloves or wrist bands from practice, for example. He would also correct Lattimore's behavior, scolding him for failing to take out the trash or demonstrating what he considered to be the proper way to mow a lawn.
"Ray was always more mature than his age," their mother, Sunseria Smith, said. "He had to be that father figure."
After the family arrived in Maryland, Lewis invited Lattimore and their three sisters to live with him. And again, he was both mentor and friend, taking a lead role in Lattimore's recruiting, for example, while also participating in water gun fights or hiding in the bushes to scare his siblings when they came home.
At Mount St. Joseph, Lattimore scored touchdowns as a wide receiver, running back, defensive back and return man, and never shied away from his brother's enormous personality. Lewis addressed the team before big games in each of Lattimore's three seasons and also spoke at a team banquet. He came to every game that didn't conflict with the Ravens' travel schedule, watching from behind a fence despite an invitation to stand on the sideline and even bringing former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to a game.
Once, Lewis agreed to Working's request that he hold forth from the middle of a team huddle in the locker room after practice, "and Keon was right in the middle of it," Working said. And by the time Lattimore got to Hargrave, Prunty said, he was the one leading such displays.
Lattimore also had performance incentives not often seen in high school; one prolific season of more than 20 touchdowns earned him a Range Rover, and he later received a Hummer for his birthday.
The wealth, he insisted, never changed their relationship, and he seems almost embarrassed by the Hummer, insisting that "I don't even drive it most of the time, I just park and walk around campus." Working agrees that Keon was without affectation, saying "he's as normal a kid as I've ever been around, for having so many things that were given to him."
Lattimore has told his mother recently that he feels more and more like Lewis's peer, and indeed, the brothers talk daily and regularly text message Bible verses to each other. They also train together in the offseason, both at home and during trips to Cancun, Boca Raton, Fla., or Jamaica, Smith said.
"I've never seen two brothers that close, I just haven't," said Prunty, who said Lattimore has the best hands and feet of any running back he has coached. "Keon understands that he's been blessed with the same ability that Ray has. I believe in my heart that Keon Lattimore will be an NFL guy."
Which brings us to Lattimore's arrival at Maryland. Last year, he missed four games with a dislocated shoulder and never entered the mix at running back, finishing the season with seven carries.
" 'Bro, you've got to rehab that thing and you've just got to keep working,' " Lattimore said his brother told him, and by the spring game Lattimore carried the ball 15 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
But despite following his coaches' order to slim down -- he carried 235 pounds on his 6-foot frame in the spring -- Lattimore didn't take the leap Maryland's coaches were expecting this fall. He had just 11 carries for 35 yards in the Terps' two preseason scrimmages and occasionally missed assignments, and he and Lance Ball will back up Mario Merrills on Saturday night. Both are considered superior pass catchers to Merrills, and Coach Ralph Friedgen plans to use all three backs.
Friedgen has talked about the virtually impossible expectations Lattimore faces and tries never to compare the two players. Lattimore himself says that if he doesn't make it to the NFL his ambitions will be unfulfilled, that "anything less is uncivilized," as he put it.
"I've been working my whole life, my work ethic has picked up a whole lot," he said. "And all that work for nothing? It would definitely be a disappointment. I won't quit. I'll never quit until I reach the top."
The Ravens play the Washington Redskins in their final preseason game Thursday, so on Saturday night Lewis likely will be down on the Maryland sideline. Lewis said that Lattimore need not worry about following in his footsteps, that "me and my mom did a great job of raising him a certain way, and he's got no pressure on him. All he's got to do is to go out and have fun."
Smith plans to choose the bleachers instead of the family's skybox on Saturday; in the bleachers, "I can holler at Keon, in the box I can't holler," she said. And she's also told her younger son that he doesn't need to copy Lewis, that he merely needs to do his best.
"Ray is Ray, Keon is Keon," she said. "Now it's time for Keon to show what Keon can do."
Staff writer Camille Powell contributed to this story from Owings Mills, Md.