Man on a mission Ravens: Errict Rhett demands to be seen, heard and talked about as he drives to attain NFL stardom again.

August 11, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

He runs as hard as he talks.

And that takes some doing for a motor-mouth like Errict Rhett, who tells childhood stories, tosses out self-promotion, and challenges teammates with the same urgency he exudes while charging into an opposing defense to earn a couple of bruising yards.

When the Ravens traded with Tampa Bay to acquire Rhett six months ago, they felt they were getting a tailback with a strong record of NFL success, and a player with something to prove.

Because of a disastrous contract holdout in 1996 and the arrival of rookie phenom Warrick Dunn last season, Rhett's early promise had become a distant memory to the Buccaneers.

The Ravens saw a guy who won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 1994, after cracking the 1,000-yard barrier in one of the league's weakest offenses. They saw a guy who returned in 1995 to produce 1,207 more yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. They saw a guy who would be an ideal fit in their two-back offense, especially behind a hard-nosed lead blocker like fullback Roosevelt Potts.

What they got is a walking bundle of nervous energy, a player who would rather not keep his thoughts to himself.

Listen to Rhett talk trash to middle linebacker Ray Lewis after the two have butted helmets during a workout. Listen to him trot past a group of reporters after running for a touchdown in practice and declare himself "the best damn running back in the NFL." Watch the huddle burst out in laughter after Rhett has uttered some wisecrack.

"He's like an alien. Other-worldly," assistant running backs coach Earnest Byner said of Rhett. "He's definitely an individual who believes in himself. A tough, hard-nosed guy who has a lot of confidence.

"It's the type of mentality our offense needs. Errict will step up to the challenge, and he won't allow anyone around him to shy away from one. He's like the Ray Lewis of the offense."

Added quarterback Jim Harbaugh: "I don't like stepping into a dead huddle. He [Rhett] picks guys up. He's picked me up a couple of times in training camp. Sometimes I hear him talking after he takes a handoff and starts running. It never stops. I like that kind of conversation."

Rhett never comes up short in that area. Ask him how hard it was growing up in the projects of West Hollywood, Fla., and he'll tell you how his mother worked several jobs to pay the bills and slept on the same couch for 20 years in an apartment "as big as some people's bathrooms."

Ask him about his keen interest in the stock market, and his eyes flash like those of a seasoned trader who has reaped, in Rhett's estimation, $50,000 profit in a given month.

Ask him to name a hero, and he quickly recalls his McArthur High School coach, Roger Mastrantonio, who once scolded Rhett for reporting late to practice -- after Rhett had been stuck in a 7-Eleven that was being robbed.

Ask him any question, then brace yourself.

"It's like there's two guys inside of me," Rhett said. "Errict is always talking to Rhett, and Rhett is always talking to Errict. I don't even know who I'm talking to half the time I'm on the field.

"But no matter how much I talk, I don't complain. You can knock me down, beat me, stomp me, but you'll never hear me complain. I'm just going to get back up and come at you again. I'm determined to be the best, and not just here."

Stage One of Rhett's career resurrection is under way. The road wasn't supposed to be this bumpy. He splashed onto the NFL scene with fanfare after getting drafted out of Florida in the second round in 1994. But, two years into his four-year contract, Rhett decided to hold out of Tampa Bay's training camp for a new deal.

The strategy backfired on Rhett and his then-agent, Drew Rosenhaus. The Buccaneers refused to buckle, and Rhett's 1996 holdout stretched into the seventh week of the regular season.

Rhett played for the final nine games and still led Tampa Bay in rushing, but because of the length of his holdout, Rhett's third year of service was nullified. Eventually, he fired Rosenhaus. He then played sparingly behind Dunn in 1997 for $396,000, and will play for $450,000 this year in what is actually his fifth season but is recognized as his fourth.

"I've been through the business side of football," Rhett said. "If I had to do it again, I would never sit out and jeopardize what God gave me, which is the game of football. Football built my mother a house, brought me out of the ghetto, paid for my education and my brother's education.

"The holdout made me stronger. It taught me to humble myself. It gave me time to learn more about myself. Money isn't everything. It's just trees turned into green paper with dead presidents on them. It took that holdout to learn that lesson, to learn how much I really wanted to play this game."

Rhett, a stout 5 feet 11, 211 pounds, is listed as second-year man Jay Graham's backup, a rating Rhett refuses to criticize. Judging by the way he powered his way to 63 yards rushing on 16 carries in Saturday's 19-14 preseason victory over Chicago, Rhett is making a good impression on his teammates.

"He's a real grinder, real smart in the holes, real good at moving the chains," Harbaugh said. "It takes a tough runner to do that. You can put 10-, 15- and 17-play drives together with guys like that."

"He never stops moving. His motor is always running," Ray Lewis said. "He'll make a difference for this team. We won't know until the [regular season] games start how good he is, how big of an impact he'll make."

Rhett has an idea.

"The only person who's going to beat me is me," he said.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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