Scouts go the distance in helping Ravens

Job to find hidden talent has high reward for team, but little glory

November 08, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Reporter

Joe Hortiz has the attention of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach Brian Billick, has a say in the future of the franchise and is compensated by owner Steve Bisciotti.

And Hortiz won't step foot in the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills for five months out of the year.

Hortiz is the national scout for the Ravens, and his primary assignment is to scour the country for talent in the collegiate ranks that can play for the organization. In his ninth year in that capacity, Hortiz realizes that his absence from the Ravens' headquarters is a requirement of the job.

"That's what makes the job with the Ravens great because you know that even though you're not there, you know that when you get there and you're able to read your report and give your opinion, it's heard and it has impact," Hortiz said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the sports section yesterday stated incorrectly that Ravens southwest area scout Jeremiah Washburn had not played college football. He was an offensive guard for the University of Arkansas for three seasons.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Sometimes you do feel out of touch when you're on the road, but you know that when you get back in there and get your opportunity to read your report, Ozzie and Eric [DeCosta] and George [Kokinis] and Steve and Brian are all listening. All of the guys that make the decisions are listening to what you have to say."

For the seven men who crisscross the nation in search of the next Ray Lewis or Todd Heap, scouting has become the next best thing to actually playing the game. All except Hortiz and southwest area scout Jeremiah Washburn played collegiately, and national scout Lionel Vital was a running back for the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions.

Becoming a scout for the Ravens is a gradual process in which candidates are kept in-house for the first two or three years before they can go out on their own. For instance, Hortiz, who was an accounting major at Auburn, assisted vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty with managing the salary cap.

"When you start out with the Ravens, you're doing stuff like going out on airport runs and hospital runs and taking players here and there and doing field checks at training camp," Midwest area scout Chad Alexander said. "It starts off as kind of a grunt job, but Ozzie and those guys have always been really good to me."

Life on the road isn't all that grand either. After the initial thrill of traveling to various destinations wears off, minor details like lost luggage, long lines at car rental counters, dirty hotel rooms and cheap food on the go begin to take their toll on the scouts, according to DeCosta, the director of college scouting.

"People have an image of it being this glamorous job where we're staying at Ritz Carltons and flying in first class and driving Lincoln Continentals and things like that. It couldn't be further from the truth," said DeCosta, who also travels. "You have to have the mentality and discipline to grind every day. And if you don't, you'll fail. It's not a plush job, and if you think it is, you're going to be very disappointed."

The average day is a very long one. Scouts usually wake up early to drive to the school, watch film of certain players before practice, attend practice, drive to the next stop, and write reports until midnight before the cycle begins again.

DeCosta said many of the scouts - all are under 32 with the exception of Vital, who is 43 - share certain traits: organizational skills, memory recall, the ability to write well, competitive nature and mental toughness.

The desire to succeed and a mental fortitude come in handy for the scouts who are expected to meet the standards imposed by Newsome, whose eye for talent has helped the Ravens draft 27 starters and 10 Pro Bowl players since 1996.

"I think they have very high expectations," Alexander said. "They value our opinions. All of the scouts don't always agree on every player, but they expect you to have conviction in your beliefs of each player. I don't think anyone on our staff has a problem with that."

Naturally, life on the road has created some interesting experiences. Hortiz once had to bunk with a scout from the New England Patriots when the hotel lost Hortiz's reservation. Alexander drove from a Green Bay Packers preseason game to the University of Minnesota to Iowa State University to Louisville University in four consecutive days, spending 15 total hours driving his rental car.

On a recruiting trip to Oregon State, DeCosta was given the keys to a hotel room and didn't realize that the room was already occupied until he, while brushing his teeth, noticed an elderly woman sitting in the bathtub paralyzed by fear.

Still, staying connected to the game they have loved is the ultimate rush. Hortiz practically shivers at the thought of working on quarterlies for an accounting firm. Alexander can recall watching an undersized freshman in 2003 block a punt and then kick a 65-yard punt during practice at Southern California. His name? Reggie Bush.

For many of the scouts, their reward is finding a Bart Scott, Mike Flynn or Ronnie Prude, the hidden gem who went undrafted before the Ravens swooped in and signed him to a rookie free-agent contract.

The pressure to uncover those players is intense as 31 other NFL franchises have given their scouts similar orders. But that just adds to the challenge, DeCosta said.

"We're young, but our scouts are passionate about what they do," he said. "They're very detail-oriented and they want to win. A lot of people in Baltimore don't know who the scouts are, but what they do is very important to the overall big picture."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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