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Ravens WR Smith beats defensive backs, adversity

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Ravens WR Smith beats defensive backs, adversity

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) On game day, Torrey Smith is a whirlwind of dreadlocks, speed and big-play catches.

None of this provides a hint of the hurdles he had to overcome to become the deep threat the Baltimore Ravens needed to make it to the Super Bowl.

After helping his single mother raise six other children, a chore that included working after school as a teenager, Smith accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland. He played three seasons, scoring 22 touchdowns - including three on kickoff returns - before throwing his name into the mix for the 2011 NFL draft.

Smith was selected in the second round by Baltimore, and as rookie he quickly displayed the ability to get downfield although his inexperience resulted in several costly dropped passes.

Early this season, Smith ran sharper patterns and rarely let a ball slip through his fingers. But tragedy struck less than 24 hours before the Ravens faced New England on Sept. 23: Smith's younger brother, Tevin Jones, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Virginia.

Smith left the team to join his family, then returned to catch six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns to help Baltimore earn a 31-30 victory.

``Incredible,'' teammate Jacoby Jones said last week. ``I'm not sure many people could perform under those circumstances, let alone play so well. I really do admire him for that.''

Smith finished the regular season with eight TD catches and ranked fourth in the NFL with 17.4 yards per reception. In the second round of the playoffs, he twice burned standout cornerback Champ Bailey for long scores in the Ravens' 38-35 playoff win over top-seeded Denver. Smith then contributed four catches for 69 yards as Baltimore defeated New England 28-13 to advance to a Super Bowl showdown with San Francisco this Sunday.

Smith revealed after the AFC title game that several Patriots fans took to insulting him on Twitter.

``Played a lot of games since my brothers death and I never received as many rude tweets after a win than Sunday...yet NE fans cry about class,'' he tweeted.

Asked in New England how the Ravens emerged as conference champions despite being decided underdogs, Smith replied, ``It's who we are. That's what our city is, a tough city. You get knocked down, you've got to get back up. That's how life is. You just can't lay down and roll over. You've got to continue to fight.''

And so it is with Smith.

``We talk about the cauldron of competition and the fire that refines us. To me, Torrey is the perfect example of how the right kind of person is made of the right kind of stuff,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``He's one of those rare players where there is no agenda. He just wants to know what's expected of him, so he can do the best he possibly can. He's not trying to fool you, he's not trying to impress you. He's just trying to be himself.''

For Smith to be at his best this season, it was important that he moved on after his brother's death.

``That's life. That's so long ago,'' Smith said with shrug Saturday as he packed his bags for a trip to New Orleans. ``That happens to everyone. Someone has someone pass, and you've just got to move on. I'm just focused on playing football.''

When Smith opted to leave Maryland before his senior year, his coach at the time, Ralph Friedgen, wasn't sure if it was the right decision. Friedgen no longer has any doubt that the 6-foot, 200-pound speedster has what it takes to be great.

``I see his hands improving and I see someone very confident in what he does,'' said Friedgen, who was fired after the 2010 season. ``When you can beat a guy like Champ Bailey twice, that can only help your confidence. Around the league, everyone knows that to beat the Ravens, you have to stop Torrey.''

Before Smith arrived, Harbaugh was desperate for a receiver that could get behind opposing safeties. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, T.J. Houshmandzahdeh, and Donte Stallworth did so on occasion, but Smith has seemingly made it a habit.

Although his 49 catches were one fewer than last season, Smith increased his yardage from 841 to 855 and had 16 catches of 20 yards or more.

``It's definitely a process,'' Smith said. ``I don't think I am surprised, because with hard work you expect to do well, and you expect to continue to get better. I never get complacent. I have a long way to go, and I'm trying to work each and every day to get there. Later, down the line, there will be some trouble.''

Friedgen has no doubt.

``Once we got him at Maryland, he hadn't played much at wide receiver,'' the former coach said. ``But I thought he had the physical tools to be very good football player, and I was right. There's a learning curve in the NFL, because defensive backs can stay with you like a shadow. But Torrey has overcome that, and I don't think he's finished growing yet.''

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Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson is starting to make people reconsider what they think of him. 

After the Ravens’ 49-13 win over the Bengals on Sunday, the rest of the NFL is starting to take notice about Lamar Jackson’s status in the NFL. Especially considering his spin move through the Bengals defense.

Hall of Fame NFL general manager Bill Polian recently admitted that he was wrong when he said that Jackson should be an NFL wide receiver during his draft process in 2018.

“I was wrong, because I used the old, traditional quarterback standard with him, which is clearly why John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome were more prescient than I was,” Polian told USA TODAY Sports. 

Jackson is currently building an MVP case for himself and is on-pace for over 30 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards of total offense. 

It’s a nice change of pace for the 22-year-old quarterback in his second year as a pro. Jackson had to face heavy criticism after he left Louisville for a variety of reasons headed into the draft. Even after he took over as the Ravens quarterback, those evaluations persisted. 

“We always knew what he was about,” Ravens center Matt Skura said. “We always knew his ability to make plays and all that stuff. I think it’s just people right now seeing it on a much larger scale and it’s just getting the attention now.”

At this point, however, it’s clear that not only is Jackson a quarterback, he might even be the MVP of the league.

Of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 Draft, only four are starting and just two have led their teams to a winning record. Jackson leads all of his draft counterparts in total yards and total touchdowns. 

But as anyone in the Ravens’ locker room will say, the accolades don’t concern Jackson — only the record does.

“I think he’s more concerned with winning than anything,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “As individuals, we’ve all got people to prove wrong and things that we used to put a chip on our shoulder. At the end of the day, I know he’s more concerned with winning more than anything.”

Still, it’s noteworthy that it only took Jackson a complete season of starts, through two partial seasons, to begin the backtracking across the NFL landscape.

“If you watch ESPN or you watch TV, it’s going to come up no matter what,” Skura said. “Even on your Instagram feed it’s going to come up. I think for a lot of us, just in one ear and out the other as far as people pumping us up. You’ve kind of got to stay level-headed and ride the rollercoaster, so to say.”

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Hayden Hurst set on helping those with depression, anxiety with new documentary titled “Headstrong”

Hayden Hurst set on helping those with depression, anxiety with new documentary titled “Headstrong”

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Hayden Hurst immediately saw the impact of his documentary last week when, just hours after it aired, people reached out to him to tell their stories. 

Hurst was a part of a documentary titled “Headstrong” that aired on NBC Sports Washington last week, which detailed his struggles with depression and anxiety as a baseball player. The documentary will air on NBCSN on Nov. 20.

Now, Hurst is reaching out to tell his story in hopes of impacting those who struggle with mental illness, as he did.

“I think it’s going to reach a lot of people,” Hurst said. “Some people even reached out to tell me stuff that affects them in their lives. It’s very cool, it’s very humbling.”

Hurst was a standout baseball player in high school and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He signed immediately and began his professional baseball career. 

But shortly thereafter, Hurst developed the “Yips,” and he was unable to throw strikes like he once did. On the mound, his hands shook when he attempted to pitch. Off the field, his condition began to deteriorate. 

He said he began to self-medicate and that’s when he started to seek help. 

After he retired from baseball, he decided to play football at the University of South Carolina and began to treat his mental illness. In 2018, he was a first-round pick of the Ravens.

“It’s night and day from where I was,” Hurst said. “Back in the baseball days, my lack of success in baseball kind of led to my off the field issues. I kind of self-medicated a little bit to make everything go away. Where I’m at now, I’m so much more mature, I’m so much more in-tune with the person that I am, I’m close with my family.”

Hurst is now set out on telling his story to help others who might be in the same situation that he was in. With his background as a professional baseball and football player, he’s hopeful that people will see his situation and feel compelled to talk about what they’ve been going through.

“I really want to tell my story so I get it out there and people can relate to it and they can see it and read it and see the silver lining in it,” Hurst said. “I think a lot of people struggle with things and not a lot of people like talking about it.”

It’s difficult for him to make speeches and speak with others during the NFL season, but he’s got plans to travel to Columbia, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida to reach out to people who might be in need of help in the offseason.

He’s already begun work in Baltimore and wants to continue to help through his foundation, the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation. 

For now, though, he wants everyone to know that it’s OK to not be OK. Hurst’s story proves that. 

“I think more people are affected by it than we think,” Hurst said. “It’s a sensitive topic and not many people like talking about it. I’m in a position where — this sounds worse than it is — I really don’t care what people think about me. I am who I am, it’s part of the make up of who I am and I’m going to tell my story.”

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