Commentary

Tip Sheet: Harewood's higher learning

O-lineman's upside, smarts compelled Ravens to draft relative football novice

Originally Published: April 30, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- For a lot of NFL clubs, the most intelligent and thought-provoking players on the roster tend to be offensive linemen, but that doesn't mean you've necessarily got to be a card-carrying rocket scientist to smash the guy in front of you.

But in the case of Ramon Harewood, the sixth-round choice of the Baltimore Ravens in last weekend's draft, it might not hurt.

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"There's so much more to it than, 'OK, there's the [defender] across from you, now go and get him out of there,'" said the thoughtful Harewood, who is majoring in applied physics and engineering at tiny Morehouse College in Atlanta. "If you just rely on strength and muscle and power, the odds aren't good you're going to last very long. Everybody at this level is big and strong. It's the thinking part of the game that comes into play."

A native of Barbados who didn't begin playing "American football" until about four years ago, and a prospect from a small liberal arts school that doesn't merit much attention for its football program, Harewood will begin assessing his NFL worthiness next week when the Ravens begin a mandatory, three-day minicamp.

And although there are the usual doubts that accompany any player's baptism to the NFL, Harewood's been testing himself so much over the past four seasons that his state of readiness hasn't changed all that much.

"I'm anxious to find out," Harewood said, "just how I [measure up]. I know there's a lot to learn, but I also know my best [football] is ahead of me."

In his first seven draft classes as the Ravens' general manager, Ozzie Newsome selected a dozen offensive-line prospects, and eight of them were in the fourth round or higher, including 2009 first-round pick Michael Oher, the second-year right tackle whose poignant narrative helped to garner Sandra Bullock a best actress award.

But those who watched the still-formative Harewood play, and who closely studied the 2010 draft, probably weren't so blindsided by the choice of the Maroon Tigers star.

Although the school hadn't produced a draft choice since the Cincinnati Bengals chose wide receiver Alex Percival in the 12th round in 1977 (including Harewood, Morehouse now lists thee players selected in the history of the NFL draft), there were representatives from about 20 teams present to ogle Harewood at the school's pro day this spring. Originally evaluated as a "priority" free agent, his stock continued to rise the more clubs he visited.

Harewood wasn't invited to the combine workouts, but at 6-foot-7, 353 pounds, and with a 40-yard time under 5.1 seconds, he became increasingly popular.

"I think people liked him as a football player," noted Morehouse coach Rich Freeman. "And they loved him as a person, and loved what he could be a few years from now."

Just a few years ago, Harewood knew virtually nothing about football. A native of St. Michael, Barbados, he principally played cricket, rugby and volleyball (his favorite), and thought mostly about majoring in physics at the University of the West Indies. Then he was "discovered" by track coach Michael Grant, after much deliberation decided to accept an academic scholarship at Morehouse, and fell hard for football.

Lugging some Bob Marley records with him, Harewood traded in the small Caribbean island (population: 280,000) for an even smaller school. But playing in a city whose square-mileage is nearly three times that of his homeland, he became a big man on a modestly sized campus.

And a football novice who could someday figure big into the Ravens' plans.

It will be interesting to see if Harewood's career -- the Ravens plan to start him out at tackle but many in the organization feel his ultimate position will be guard -- spurs some more interest in players at historically black colleges and universities. As noted in several ESPN.com columns in past years, the role of the HBCU programs in supplying players for the NFL has been dramatically reduced the past 20 years. In fact, Harewood was one of only three prospects from HBCU schools selected last weekend.

Onetime league hotbeds such as Grambling, Jackson State and Southern were totally shut out in the 2010 draft.

But thanks to Harewood, the Division II Morehouse, a highly regarded but financially imperiled college tucked on the west side of Atlanta -- a school of about only 3,000 whose most famous alums include Martin Luther King Jr., director Spike Lee, Olympic gold-medal hurdler Edwin Moses and actor Samuel L. Jackson -- might have its first legitimate football standout.

Or a guy who helps to design the first Mars-bound manned space capsule.

"The sky," Harewood allowed, "is the limit."

Both literally and figuratively, it seems.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.