Looking to future, J. Lewis wants to keep on trucking

The Kickoff

August 09, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis looked at the way I looked at his red supertruck yesterday and knew exactly what I was thinking.

"It's not a toy," he said.

"It sure looks like a toy," I said.

"It's not a toy," he said again.

Then Jamal explained to me why it is not a toy and I started to understand, though teammate Chris McAlister crawled right into the driver's seat and begged for the keys because he thought it was a toy, too.

Lewis shook his head. His $200,000 monster Ford with the twin 75-gallon chrome gas tanks is, believe it or not, a company car ... and the company apparently is doing quite well.

Jamal is CEO of All American Xpress, a trucking company that has been so successful he graces the cover of this month's issue of Challenge Magazine, a glossy trucker-oriented monthly published by Pilot Travel Centers.

The company, which boasts 115 tractors and 160 trailers, grosses about $21 million a year, according to Lewis, and is expanding at a rate of two trucks a month. His goal is eventually to have a fleet of 1,000 hauling perishable cargo coast to coast.

"I've been around trucking all my life," Lewis said yesterday. "I went in from an investment standpoint. I wanted to find an investment that would bring the same kind of money and lifestyle I have now. I've been involved in some other businesses, like a restaurant, but they didn't bring in the kind of profits I really want to make. In the trucking business, you can generate high revenue dollars."

Clearly, Lewis has come a long way in the 18 months since he was sent to prison for four months on a drug charge. He drew criticism last season for complaining about his contract situation so soon after being released from custody. Now, with a new three-year deal that might end up being a one-year deal, he's confident he'll be financially secure one way or the other.

"This is what I really want to do," he said. "To me, football is just a means to an end. I don't want to rely on Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti giving me another contract. I have to take what they've given me and make it work for Jamal Lewis."

That's where the monster truck comes in. Lewis is not just a figurehead company executive. He uses the truck as a public relations and recruiting vehicle for his expanding business.

Judging by the number of people who gravitated to it yesterday afternoon in the parking lot of the Best Western Hotel that serves as the Ravens' training camp headquarters, it obviously has the desired effect.

"I drive it into truck stops to recruit drivers," Lewis said. "It's not just a toy. It's bought through the company. I've driven it from Atlanta down to Miami and to the Midwest. When I drive into a truck stop, drivers just jump out of their trucks to come look at it."

Inside, it has seating for nine and a large flat-screen television mounted across the back wall, but the interior really isn't superstar garish.

"I've had business meetings in there," he said.

Lewis envisioned all this back when he entered the University of Tennessee, where his stellar three-year career led to a first-round selection by the Ravens in the 2000 NFL draft.

"When I was in college, they asked us a question: `If you were to go to the NFL, what would you do with your money?'" Lewis said. "I said, `I want to own a fleet of trucks.' "

That dream came true when Jamal bought into a Dalton, Ga., company called Smith Transportation early in 2005. He brought added financial strength, name recognition and new energy to the company, which now is known as All American Xpress.

He isn't the first high-profile professional athlete to find happiness in the trucking business. Former NBA superstar Karl Malone actually earned a license to drive an 18-wheeler during his basketball career, though he eventually settled into the logging business in Arkansas.

Lewis credits his initial interest to an uncle who drove big rigs when Jamal was a youngster. His enthusiasm for the business is obvious as soon as he begins talking about it.

When he found out that one of his big rigs was scheduled to make a drop within short driving distance of the Ravens' training camp today, he arranged for it to stop at the Best Western for a TV shoot with Comcast sportscaster Sage Steele, who is working on a feature about him.

Of course, the reason everybody got interested in the first place was that fire-engine-red Ford that's as big as a fire engine.

Apparently, it's not a toy.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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