Ravens' Birk says he 'absolutely' would help tutor rookie center

With veteran in last year of contract, team might look to draft for his successor

April 20, 2011|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Matt Birk spent his afternoon giving away notebooks, pencils and crayons to Baltimore City elementary school representatives at the Port Covington Wal-Mart as part of his "Ready, Set, Read" program.

If the Ravens want Birk to take on a similar education role this year, the six-time Pro Bowl center would be happy to oblige. Birk said Wednesday that he would "absolutely" tutor a rookie center if the Ravens draft one next week.

Some of the top centers in this year's draft include: Florida State's Rodney Hudson, Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, Slippery Rock's Brandon Fusco and Southern California's Kris O'Dowd.

"When I came into the league with the Vikings, I can remember some older guys who were great players — Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy — and didn't have to give me the time of day but they did," Birk said. "They really helped mentor me. As I've become a veteran player, I've kind of relished that role and appreciate the opportunity to give back and do that for somebody else."

The Ravens would probably have to consider using one of their nine draft picks on a center because Birk turns 35 in July and is entering the final year of his contract.

Birk had contemplated retirement for a short time after dealing with a knee injury in a physically challenging 13th NFL season. But he informed the team in February that he would return and reiterated those intentions Wednesday.

"It's tough to explain, but your body tells you thumbs-up or thumbs-down," he said. "Right now, it's giving me the thumbs-up."

Birk has thought about whether the 2011 season would be his last. Birk's career has included six Pro Bowls, two All-Pro selections and 155 starts. Not too bad for a sixth-round pick out of Harvard.

"You wait and see how you feel after the season and after you get away from it for a while," Birk said. "God willing, I'm able to play this year. My contract is up after this year. It'll be a good time to reassess things and see what I should do."

Birk's focus Wednesday was education, which has become a priority for his HIKE Foundation. At Wal-Mart, his partner in the program, the foundation prepared 100 bags that included notebooks, book covers, crayons, silly bands and motivational posters.

More than one-third of the 150 elementary schools in Baltimore City and County have registered for the program. The goal is to reach 100,000 students.

"Education has always been something that's been very important to me," said Birk, who graduated with an economics degree from Harvard. "One of the great things about playing football is you do have a platform where you can positively affect young people. I tell them my education is going to serve me for a longer period of time than football will."

Birk points out that Ivy League schools were the only ones that recruited him for football.

"If I didn't have good grades, my football career would have ended," he said. "I tell them having good grades actually helped prolong my football career."

Birk's football career is on hold at the moment because of the NFL lockout. He still runs into teammates like safety Haruki Nakamura at the local gym.

Birk, who is one of the Ravens' player representatives in the disbanded union, said he expects a 16-game season to be played.

"I know everyone is frustrated right now and just frustrated by the lack of progress," Birk said. "I think if everything goes off on time, there won't be any real damage done. If you start missing games, then who knows what kind of effect that's going to have on the game, the product or the business of the league?"

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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