For Webster, the plate's full

Ravens: Unlike many pro athletes, defensive tackle Larry Webster has learned from his mistakes, and for that, he and his team give thanks.

November 25, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Defensive tackle Larry Webster is thankful for the Ravens, and the Ravens are thankful for Larry Webster.

In the nearly four full seasons the Ravens have been in Baltimore, Webster may be the team's biggest success story. He is a local kid who became a star at the state's largest university. He was drafted, cut and suspended twice for violating the NFL's alcohol and substance-abuse policy.

But now he is a starter having his best season. He's 12th on the team in tackles, but No. 1 in humility.

Oh, is he thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.

"It's great to be here," Webster said. "I'm thankful the Ravens gave me a second chance, thankful for the people who put up with me when I was out of football. I didn't always listen at first, but they gave me some good advice.

"I eventually paid attention to it. People like my mom [Theresa Carroll]; my longtime friend, Bill Wright, and godmother [Doris Murray] -- they've always been there for me."

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, takes pride in talking about Webster, 30, a native of Elkton.

"Some people talk about changing their ways and they never do," Newsome said. "With Larry, we've seen a great deal of humility since the suspension. He's a very heartwarming story."

Webster's NFL story almost ended on Aug. 20, 1996, when he was suspended for the entire season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy for the third time. Twice before, he reportedly tested positive for marijuana -- when he was with the Miami Dolphins and later during the 1995 season with the Cleveland Browns.

The last suspension reportedly involved consuming a beer at his bachelor party two nights before he was married. Players are not allowed to consume any alcohol after one violation.

But since then, Webster has changed. During the off-season, he spends countless hours traveling to schools talking about problems associated with using drugs. He routinely stops at the Maryland Department of Corrections in Jessup to enlighten prisoners about making successful comebacks.

"I tell the students about the consequences of right and wrong," said Webster, a former standout at the University of Maryland. "There are certain consequences for your actions. When you're young, a lot of times you react and then think. By then, it's too late, and you have to suffer the consequences. When you get older, you think and then you react. It's a major difference."

The consequence for Webster was a one-year suspension, spent working for an electrical contractor at an auto plant, helping to deliver materials or working with the cleanup crew. He joined a labor union and sometimes worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Webster said he developed a stronger appreciation for the game and a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ.

"You start believing when you stop believing in coincidence," Webster said. "Things happen for a reason, and God will make certain things happen in your life to open your eyes. He took something special away from me to teach me a lesson, but gave me an opportunity again.

"I never doubted that I could come back and do the things I needed to do to return. I prayed about it. I believed."

Only this time, Webster has taken his career a step further. In six previous seasons, the past two with the Ravens, Webster always had been the top backup. But when James Jones signed with the Detroit Lions during the off-season, Webster became the starter.

He hired a personal trainer from Delaware to work on isolated muscle groups and flexibility. The criticism of Webster had been that his feet and hand speed were too slow. But in training camp, he was a different player.

"The thing you like about Larry is his work ethic," Newsome said. "When he was presented with the opportunity because James left, he stepped his game up to another level. The biggest difference is in his movement skills. I think Rex [Ryan, defensive line coach] also played a major part in his development because of his individual drills, which stress a lot of movement."

Webster has the prototype tackle body. He is a well-cut 6 feet 5, 305 pounds. His primary function is to isolate one or two blockers and keep them off middle linebacker Ray Lewis, and he's having a strong season despite battling turf toe.

"Larry goes out and works hard every day," Ryan said. "He's willing to work, willing to improve. He has impressed me with his ability to shed blockers. This was an area he had to improve on and he went out and did it."

Webster will be a free agent at the end of the season. He prefers to stay in Baltimore and add another chapter to his story of local guy does good.

"And you know something? We want to have him back," Newsome said.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Jaguars by 7

Tickets: Sold out

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