Ravens' Stallworth looking forward

At official introduction, wide receiver says fatal accident doesn't define who he is

April 02, 2010|By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

A year removed from tragedy, Ravens wide receiver Donte' Stallworth still appears to be a man seeking redemption.

During his introductory news conference Thursday, which came six weeks after the Ravens signed him, Stallworth spoke in a calm and contrite manner about how he regrets killing a 59-year-old pedestrian last year while driving drunk on a causeway in Miami.

"If I could take back that night over, I would," Stallworth said in his first interview since the accident.

In front of a packed media room at Ravens headquarters, Stallworth answered every question by looking directly at reporters, responding in a remorseful and respectful tone.

The day represented the first step of what could be Stallworth's next biggest challenge - convincing the Ravens' fan base that his reputation shouldn't be based solely on the horrific nightof March 14, 2009.

"One instance doesn't define a person at all," Stallworth said. "It's a situation where I could have used better judgment, but I didn't. At the end of the day, once people get to know me, I'm not the kind of person that is perceived from the outcome of what happened with my case."

Stallworth, 29, signed a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Ravens on Feb. 16, eight days after being reinstated from a one-year NFL suspension.

Last July, he served 24 days of a 30-day sentence in Miami jail after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide. He is under two years of house arrest, although he is allowed to leave to practice and play for the Ravens.

Under his sentence, Stallworth can't drive for at least four more years, but he said he has made arrangements to get back and forth to Ravens headquarters.

Stallworth said "it's a daily process" in dealing with his past.

"Now that I'm back playing, it's not in the back of my mind," Stallworth said. "It's something I deal with every day, waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. It's a tough situation for everyone involved."

Police say Stallworth struck and killed Mario Reyes, a construction worker who was rushing to catch a bus after finishing work about 7:15 a.m. Stallworth told police he flashed his lights in an attempt to warn Reyes, who was not in a crosswalk.

Stallworth had a blood-alcohol level of 0.126, well above Florida's legal limit of 0.08. He stopped after the crash and reported the accident. Police estimated Stallworth was driving about 50 mph in a 40-mph zone.

Stallworth paid an undisclosed cash settlement to the Reyes family; it is believed to be at least $3 million. He said he can't legally talk to the family, but he has conveyed messages through lawyers.

"Ever since my first statement a couple of days after the accident, my main focus was to make sure the Reyes family knew I was very apologetic about what happened," Stallworth said.

A reason the Ravens signed Stallworth is his previous relationship with coach John Harbaugh, who was the special teams coach in Philadelphia when Stallworth was there in 2006.

"He is a good person. He's got a good heart," Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings last month. "Obviously, he's made mistakes. I don't think there's anyone more determined to make it right than Donte'. When you're around a guy for a whole year, you get to see what kind of person they are. I had a good impression beforehand. Then, he came in and talked to us - what he said and how he said it and what he's determined to do."

Stallworth said it was difficult to sit out last season because he has played football for 17 straight years. During his time away from the game, he said, he worked harder than he ever had and gained "a renewed love for the game."

His first workout after being reinstated was with the Detroit Lions. But the Ravens phoned shortly afterward.

"Once Baltimore called, I was really excited," he said. "I really didn't care who else called."

Stallworth immediately impressed Ravens coaches in his workout. His 40-yard time of 4.4 seconds is reportedly the fastest recorded by the Ravens on their turf.

Wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, who was with New Orleans when the Saints selected Stallworth with the 13th overall pick in the 2002 draft, said Stallworth is "maybe the only true fast guy that I've ever been around that is tough."

"Those two qualities are a big reason why we fell in love with Donte' way back when I was with him in New Orleans," Hostler said. "It's the same qualities that he has now. He plays that way, and it shows up that way. Those are the reasons why he has a chance here with us."

Stallworth, who is 6 feet and 200 pounds, has 296 catches and 32 touchdowns in 95 NFL games for four teams.

The Ravens hope Stallworth can reinvigorate his career and become the deep threat in an upgraded wide receiver group that also includes Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.

The team waited to make Stallworth available to reporters because general manager Ozzie Newsome wanted to give him time to spend with coaches and teammates.

On Thursday, Stallworth talked about how he will prove himself on the field and off it.

"That accident allowed me to understand the severity of making one bad decision, how it can snowball into a whole terrible incident," Stallworth said.

"Before this accident, I wasn't a bad person at all. I haven't changed much as a person. I'm more aware of the decisions that I make."

Notes: Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody visited the Ravens on Thursday. ... Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith changed agents, switching from Ralph Cindrich to Neil Cornrich, according to the NFL Players Association. Cindrich told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that Smith's business adviser, Bobby George, sent a letter of termination to DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment on March 12, saying they decided to part ways with the firm because there were issues that couldn't be resolved. Cindrich has not spoken to Smith about the decision.

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