After every game, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith returns to his phone and finds a text message from his former University of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. Some texts, like the one Friedgen sent last Saturday following the Ravens’ 38-35 victory over the Denver Broncos, are congratulatory. Others offer support or encouragement. Almost all of them include Friedgen telling Smith how much his success means to him.
"I try to tell him every time we talk how proud I am of him,” Friedgen said. "I’m fairly close to his Mom, too. She’ll call me from time to time. His grandma, I know her, too. I’m really close to his family. When you have a kid and you recruit him out of high school and you see him mature in your program and then you see him go on and have success, you really take a lot of pride in that. It’s not only his success as a football player, but his development as a person. He’s just a fine young man. Baltimore is very fortunate to have him."
Smith played three full seasons at Maryland under Friedgen and they both departed the university at essentially the same time. Smith declared for the draft and was a second-round pick of the Ravens in 2011. Friedgen's contract was bought out by Maryland following the final game of the 2010 regular season and he coached his last game in the Military Bowl against East Carolina, also Smith’s college finale.
Since then, the two have remained close and communicated often. When Friedgen learned that Smith lost his younger brother, Tevin, in a motorcycle accident earlier this season, he made sure to call both Smith and his mother. He then watched the wide receiver score two touchdowns in the Ravens’ victory over the New England Patriots later that day.
"Torrey was pretty much the male influence in the household there so I knew how hard that would be on him,” Friedgen said. "It’s a testament to his character and his determination. I was interested to see how he would react but it doesn’t surprise me that he worked his way through it. I know he probably dedicated it to his brother. He’s really an exceptional kid. Take football out of it. When we recruited him at Maryland, he had broken his leg and didn’t play his senior year. He was playing quarterback on his high school team. Once I met the kid and his mother and I saw what type of kid he was, obviously, I saw he was a very good athlete who could run. But I was willing to take that gamble on the kid because I knew what type of person he was and I knew he was going to give everything that he had.”
When asked about Friedgen yesterday, Smith said, “That’s my guy,” while flashing a wide smile. He then discussed how well the offense that the Terps ran while he was in college prepared him for the NFL.
Initially, Smith admitted, he was frustrated that former Terps offensive coordinator James Franklin required him to know not just what his responsibility was on a particular play, but what every other player on offense was supposed to do. Now, he says, he understands why.
"We used to hear it all the time, the guys that went on to the next level, they were just light years ahead of other guys from a mental standpoint,” said Franklin, now the head coach at Vanderbilt. “I think more than anything, the game is coming easier to him now, and what they’re doing offensively and things like that, the transition for him, I know he’s handled it really well. He’s just so much more comfortable with his role and what they’re asking him to do."
Franklin also keeps in touch with Smith and joked that he’s “trying to figure out if I can get him married and start having kids so I can recruit him as soon as possible. I’ll offer him right away.”
Friedgen, meanwhile, keeps getting reminders of the selflessness that made Smith such a pleasure to coach.
“It’s funny, my daughter, Kelley, bought her fiancee -- he’s a big Ravens’ fan -- a Torrey Smith jersey,” Friedgen said. “She asked me, ‘Do you think Torrey would sign the jersey.’ I said, ‘I’ll ask him.’ My wife [Gloria] is going to be up in Maryland this week and I texted him and said, ‘Is there any time that you can do this?’ He texts me back and said, ‘Just have Gloria call me and I’ll find the time to do it.’ It was just like, no problem. I told my daughter that and she got all excited.
“He’s just an unbelievable kid, he really is,” Friedgen added. “If I had a son, I’d like him to be just like Torrey.”