Larry Webster doesn't boast to his Poly (Baltimore) High School players about his Super Bowl XXXV title with the Baltimore Ravens. He does, however, channel the experiences from his 11-year NFL career to mold his team from boys into men.
“When you leave his football team, you’re going to be a better person, rather than just a better athlete aiming for a win,” senior running back Stephen Scott said.
As a player, Webster never thought about becoming a coach. After he retired he wanted to step away from football, but the game kept calling him back. He had a purpose to fulfill to younger players.
“My job as a man is to walk them to the corner and make sure they get across the street safely,” Webster said. “My job is not to send them into the road and let them get hit by a car.”
After serving as a volunteer coach for three seasons, Webster took over the top spot last year when former Poly coach Roger Wrenn retired after 43 seasons. Webster, a former defensive tackle, played collegiately at Maryland before his professional career included stops at Miami, Cleveland, the New York Jets and, of course, the Ravens.
Naturally, Scott said the team was excited — not because of Webster’s NFL pedigree, but for his ability to relate to his players.
“I haven’t ever had a coach be in my corner as much as coach Web,” Scott said.
His support was especially instrumental as Scott transitioned into his senior year. As a junior, Scott’s 2.0 GPA ended Maryland's interest in him, ruining his lifelong dream of playing for the Terps.
“It was a real heartbreaker,” Scott said.
Initially, he labeled himself the victim — until Webster arrived and turned around the message.
“He told me straight up that if I want this football life, I’ve got to change,” Scott said.
“My whole career was a learning experience,” Webster said. “I tell my athletes about my mistakes so they don’t make them.”
Webster’s heavy emphasis on being a student — not just an athlete — kept Scott on his toes. He’d randomly request grade reports from Scott’s teachers and even required study hall, which hadn’t ever been mandatory for the team. Webster said the purpose is to instill the message that “no matter what the situation, you can use your mind to get to where you want to go.”
He preaches to his athletes to pay attention to little details, advice Webster received from NFL coaches Rex Ryan (New York Jets) and Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals).
“I told Stephen an extra 15 minutes of studying could get him two to three more questions right on an exam,” Webster said. “I try to equate some of the players I played with to teach things these young men are going through. If I have a player who doesn’t want to work hard, I tell him, ‘I’ve played with some of the best that ever played the game. The best are the ones who worked the hardest.'”
Scott has realized the message, too.
“Just passing isn’t OK in his eyes, and all of his players know it,” Scott said. “I take it personal now when I have a grade below 80.”
Scott has since raised his GPA to 3.2, and he’s got a few colleges on his radar, including Shepherd (W.Va.), Bowie State (Md.) and James Madison (Va.).
Under Webster’s guidance, Scott says he has developed a new respect for teachers and academics, converting from an athlete who quickly turned down constructive criticism to a student-athlete who welcomes learning what his flaws are, then working to improve.
Scott’s applied a similar mentality in his approach to football, particularly with his running style, which Webster compared to former Super Bowl MVP and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and four-time Pro Bowler Eddie George. Webster preached the need to absorb details, advising Scott to research and study their cutting techniques and ability to stay on their toes.
Following Webster's advice, in the three weeks leading up to the season Scott scoured YouTube an hour a day for clips of Smith and George. He’d study their form, from the way they kept their knees up to where their eyes were looking. Scott even spent hours in front of a mirror holding a football while running in place, mimicking what he watched.
In doing so, he says his running ability became stronger — he’s able to stay off his forefoot and keep his knees up, enabling him to feel more balanced. He credits Webster for teaching him the value of investing in little details.
“He’s been to the top of the mountain, and I’m trying to climb it,” Scott said.
As much as he loves the game, the greatest lesson Scott has learned from Webster is not to let football take over his life.
“Coach Web says, ‘Don’t lose yourself.’ He knows a lot of players, including himself, who got caught up in thinking that life is just about football. Life is about your morals and how you want to be remembered as a man, rather than just as a player.”