Miami’s most iconic football star made his triumphant return to campus Wednesday for “An Evening with Ray Lewis.”
Lewis, the longtime face of the Baltimore Ravens after three seasons at the University of Miami (1993-1996), delivered two speeches to groups of students gathered at the Student Activities Center ballroom.
The event was hosted by Hurricane Productions and Student Government.
Lewis reminisced about his Miami glory days and reminded the audience to keep their opportunities in perspective.
Curiously, Lewis was not heavily recruited out of high school, though he starred in both football and wrestling at home in Lakeland, Fla.
Lewis took a trip to Tallahassee, Fla., but turned down a scholarship offer from Florida State when he found out he would have to play behind their veteran linebackers. His peers criticized his impatience thinking he’d blown the best chance to play at the next level.
But four days prior to National Signing Day, UM offered Lewis a scholarship.
He recalls that Miami’s longtime offensive line coach, Art Kehoe, and former head coach, Dennis Erickson, happened to catch his last high school game because they were interested in an opposing player.
When Lewis got the call from Miami, he knew “it wasn’t about ability, it was about effort.”
As Lewis, 38, looked back on his career he said, “I shared this battlefield with a lot of warriors who I respect the utmost.”
But still, his fondest UM memory is getting dropped off for the first time in 1993.
“I was the guy on the bottom of the totem pole,” Lewis said.
Then-freshman Ray Lewis was discouraged to learn that he’d been left out of the Hurricanes media guide for his first year. By the time he signed his scholarship papers, it had already gone to print.
But he capitalized on the chance to build his name from scratch.
“When you talk about UM, you must honor and respect the brand,” he said.
As Lewis grew into a football legend, he established a work ethic based on the opportunities he saw ahead. He was determined to avoid a fate similar to countless other youths from his disadvantaged background.
“Nine out of 10 of us never made it out, and even if you made it out, most of us found our way back,” he said.
He went on to earn two All-American selections as a Hurricane, and then won two Super Bowls and was selected for the Pro Bowl 13 times during his 17-year NFL career.
Lewis, whose inspirational speeches have become something of an institution in the world of football, covered a lot of ground in one hour.
He mentioned the importance of finding balance among one’s mind, body and spirit. He talked about discipline and motivation, challenging the audience to become “your own leaders.”
“I’ve been looking forward to hearing Ray for weeks,” senior Justin Green said. “He speaks with such emotion, and it’s exciting to hear from a Miami legend.”
For Lewis, the bottom line he hoped to communicate Wednesday was to not take things for granted.
“I don’t know about tomorrow. Yesterday is already gone. So just give me today,” he said.