`Little brother' on the ball, too

Football: Keon Lattimore and big brother Ray Lewis couldn't be closer, but the Mount St. Joseph junior doesn't need to lean on the Raven's reputation on the field.

September 20, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | By Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Keon Lattimore could hardly wait to deliver the news.

The Mount St. Joseph junior had scored twice and made an acrobatic tackle at the goal line in the closing seconds of a 46-41 victory in Steubenville, Ohio.

Soon after the game, he reached for his cellular telephone and dialed up his brother, Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, to brag about his accomplishments.

Lattimore has had plenty to brag about so far. He has scored eight touchdowns and been all over the field as a running back, wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner, leading the Gaels to a 3-1 record.

He has his eye on six more touchdowns. Lewis has promised Lattimore a new car if he reaches that total.

Not that Lattimore has to take the bus to school now. He already is allowed to drive to Mount St. Joseph in any of Lewis' five vehicles, including a Mercedes Benz and a Bentley purchased scarcely a month ago.

"Ray's always telling me I'm too soft on Keon, but he's the one who spoils that boy," said their mother, Sunseria Keith.

"Keon's handsome, gifted, bright, drives nice cars and has unlimited potential," said Mount St. Joseph coach Mike Working. "But the biggest thing he's got to overcome is he hasn't had to work for a lot of stuff. Maybe he's had it too easy, but Ray's tougher on him than anybody."

"Ray comes to all of my home games, and he's straight up with me, telling me if I was good or bad," said Lattimore. "But for the away games, I have to call him. And if I have a good game, then I may get rewarded. Growing up, we had no father figure around, so he's big brother, best friend, he's everything."

Lattimore and Lewis have different fathers, making them technically half-brothers. But that's not a term they accept.

"He's my brother," Lewis said, narrowing his eyes when the word "half-brother" was mentioned.

Lattimore has lived with Lewis in Maryland for three years, but Lewis was changing his little brother's diapers before he was a teen-ager. Keith worked three jobs while raising her children in Lakeland, Fla., and put Lewis in charge of his four younger siblings - including three girls - when he was 10.

"Ray had to be more like an adult because I worked 10-hour shifts," said Keith, 41, a deeply spiritual woman whose children attended church daily. "He had to cook. He did the girls' hair in ponytails, got them off to school. After school, they couldn't go outside until I got home."

In an album at her Pikesville home, Keith has a 9-year-old photograph illustrating the attachment between Lewis and Lattimore.

Her older son is ready to hop into mom's pickup truck, leaving home to start school and a football career at the University of Miami. Lattimore has his arms locked around his brother's waist. Lewis fights back tears while the younger boy weeps uncontrollably.

"I'll never forget that little, fat, chubby boy. Just wouldn't let me go," said Lewis. "I told him, `Brother will be back. I just got to go take care of my business.' Neither one of our fathers was ever around for us. One of the toughest things I ever did, leaving that boy."

Earlier this month, Lewis discussed the responsibilities of being a father figure. Last year, he said, he and Keith grounded Lattimore for a month after he had gotten a tattoo - without permission - on his right biceps. Lattimore apparently couldn't catch a break for making the tattoo a dedication to his mother that includes the words, "Heaven sent."

"There's been times where I've took his pager, hid his phone, told him he couldn't drive to school or go to the malls," Lewis said.

"But he works for things, takes out the garbage, makes sure his room is clean, can't come up in here with any bad grades. But if your kids are doing the things they're supposed to do, you can reward them.

"Whatever I've got, he's got. My mother nurtured me, and I pass that on to him."

Though he may enjoy having his big brother attending each of his home games, Lattimore found the spotlight uncomfortable as a freshman, when Lewis faced double-murder charges in Atlanta after a notorious post-Super Bowl incident in 2000. Lewis eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and the murder charges were dropped.

"When I'd go out to malls, people would stare in a negative way," said Lattimore. "I had to try hard not to say anything or retaliate and just to keep my head straight and go on about my business."

While Lewis was in jail and then on trial - from February into June - Lattimore lived with his sisters, 23-year-old twins Lakeisha and Laquesha Jenkins, in Randallstown. He credits his family, teammate J.J. Outlaw and counselors from Mount St. Joseph for "keeping my head right." At times, the Mount St. Joseph administration allowed him to stay home and do his classwork.

"His mother was down there [in Atlanta] with Ray, and it's scary when the situation's up in the air," said Outlaw, son of former NFL defensive back John Outlaw.

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