Harewood knew of just three NFL players: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Jeremy Shockey.
It was abundantly clear, he knew next to nothing about football.
“He was definitely behind the eight ball,” said Morehouse College Offensive Line Coach Brian Braswell. “The simple things that others knew, he just didn’t.”
That was just the beginning of Harewood’s long journey to the NFL.
The Barbados native didn’t start playing football until college. He went to Morehouse, a Division II historically black college. He was a sixth-round project pick. In his first two years in the league, he had three season-ending surgeries.
Now Harewood stands as the Ravens’ starting left guard.
After an offseason of debating who would step into the position vacated by Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs, it was Harewood that came running out of the tunnel, a player that thought he was on the bubble.
“A long road doesn’t even begin to explain my path here,” Harewood said after playing in his first regular-season NFL game Monday night against the Bengals. “It’s a tremendous personal victory for me just to step on an NFL field.”
Harewood grew up in Barbados playing rugby and volleyball and closely following soccer. He was at one time a member of the Caribbean island’s junior national volleyball and rugby teams.
Football wasn’t a consideration until Michael Grant, a track and field coach who also recruited and later coached at Morehouse, approached the massively-built 6-foot-6 Harewood at a career fair.
Harewood went to Morehouse on an academic scholarship and majored in applied physics and engineering, intent on getting his degree and having a prosperous non-athletic career. He was originally slated to be on the track team as a shot putter and discus thrower.
But with his size and athleticism, football seemed like a natural fit.
It didn’t take long for that to fall under serious questioning. The team originally put Harewood on the defensive line. They taught him how to get in a stance, but Harewood would stand straight up when the ball was snapped.
“We were thinking, ‘This guy might not be a player because he was getting driven off the ball like 20 yards,’” Braswell said with a laugh. “We went down to the fundamentals of everything.”
Morehouse moved Harewood to offensive line after one season. He started picking it up so quickly that Braswell told the sophomore that if he kept working hard he would probably have a shot at the NFL. Harewood finished his college career with 30 starts and nearly 100 pancake blocks.
“The fact that he’s such an intelligent player and student, he caught onto those things really fast,” Braswell said. “He’s so athletic, so strong. He plays hard and studies hard. So by his junior and senior year, he was dominating the league.”
Harewood was still raw by NFL standards, but he had created so much buzz because of his potential that the Ravens, who didn’t have a seventh-round pick in 2010, pounced on him in the sixth.
He went on to become the ultimate project.
On the first play of organized team activities in his rookie year, Harewood was bull rushed and a cleat stuck in the turf. The knee injury knocked him out of much of the summer’s practices and left him getting season-ending knee surgery at the end of training camp – on both knees at the same time.
Harewood returned for his sophomore year, but tried to play through what he thought was a sprained ankle. Whatever it was, it gave way in the final preseason game. He had surgery two days after the Ravens’ rout of the Steelers in Week 1.
“I felt cursed,” Harewood said.
He relied on a drive instilled in him from his childhood to get through the frustrating times. Harewood’s mom always told him he could be whatever he wanted to be. When she died when he was 10 years old, that’s the lesson Harewood took with him.
He got a huge tattoo across his chest that reads, “Victory belongs to the most persevering.”
“As I got older, perseverance was just a word that stuck with me,” Harewood said.
He came to the Ravens training facility nearly every day at 7 a.m. during the offseason, working his ankle back into shape and still trying to learn the game. Center
“Ramon is one persistent guy. He’s very determined, very tough-minded,” said Birk, a Harvard graduate who likes to intellectually spar with Harewood.
“I’ve been injured before. Mentally, it wears on you. Ramon came back this year with a great attitude and worked extremely hard during training camp as a young, unproven player. He had to work harder than everybody else. Coaches tested him, players tested him. He answered every challenge.”
Still, Harewood didn’t know whether he had earned a roster spot. He felt he was on the bubble, and spent cut day sweating it out.
Harewood’s argument (against himself) was that he was a sixth-round pick, was on injured reserve for two years and was competing with plenty of other talent in second-round pick
“It would only be natural [to cut me],” Harewood said.
But the Ravens valued Harewood’s size, his long arms and ability to slide inside to guard, a position he played in a game for the first time in his life in Baltimore’s final preseason game in St. Louis.
The Ravens liked him so much that they opted to go with Harewood over free-agent signing Williams, who had started every game he played in since 2003.
On Monday Night Football against Cincinnati, Harewood heard his name called by the P.A. announcer as he ran onto the field with fire rising around him. In his third year in the league, he was about to play in his first game – as a starter.
“I really can’t explain it right now,” Harewood said after the game, in which he surrendered just one quarterback pressure.
“I want to say phenomenal, but that doesn’t even sum it up to be honest with you. The last [few] years have been so hard; to be able to run out of that tunnel tonight was an amazing feeling.”