Leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, the Ravens probably knew they didn't have a chance at snagging hometown prospect Tavon Austin, but they were hopeful.
The Ravens brought Austin in for a workout and visit at the Under Armour Performance Center. They were wowed by the 5-foot-8, 176-pounder's speed and explosion, his tenacity and demeanor. He played bigger than his tiny frame.
Austin met with General Manager Ozzie Newsome before leaving.
"He had a plan for me, that they were going to draft me," Austin said.
"We were very interested," Head Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday. "He's a guy we did a lot of work on and got to know him and his family. He went too high."
St. Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher made an aggressive move, trading up from the 16th-overall pick to No. 8 overall to snag Austin. Fresh off Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens were at No. 32.
Fisher explained his reasoning for the bold move. "I didn't want to have to coach against him. I didn't want to have to defend him," he said.
Now the Ravens will be tasked with that difficult challenge as Austin will return home* *to play at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time in his NFL career. It's a homecoming for a true Baltimore boy and one of the NFL's most electric offensive weapons.
Austin grew up in west Baltimore, not far from the Mondawmin Mall and the epicenter of April's riots. He used to catch the subway at Mondawmin, ride down to Johns Hopkins, get off and walk down the street to get to his old school.
Austin was a star at Dunbar High School, and was named The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year. It's the same school Harbaugh and Ravens players visited shortly after the riots to talk to the youth. Harbaugh even met with members of Dunbar's varsity football team.
Austin doesn't come back home to Baltimore much these days. He said only free camps for kids, which he puts on near Douglas High School, draw him to his roots. He said it will feel good to play in his backyard, but Austin didn't seem to place too much sentimental value on it.
"It's about playing in front of my family [more than] anything," he said. "I won't let it get to me too much. At the end of the day, I have a job to get done. I'm trying to go in there and play how I always play – hard football, tough."
Austin seems to have finally found his niche in St. Louis as a combo wide receiver/running back. In fact, he could line up anywhere in the Rams* *offense. He's also the team's primary punt returner.
Austin has just two more receptions (30) than rushing attempts (28), and has a combined 530 total yards and six touchdowns. He's already surpassed last year's totals in both yardage and set a career-high in trips to the end zone.
"This guy is a playmaker in every way," Harbaugh said.
And this may be just the start for the explosive 5-foot-8, 176-pounder.
"Well, I think he's underused," Fisher said. "He's all over the place, and the more times we get the ball in his hands, the better off he's going to be. I don't think we did as good a job [getting him the ball] as we should have over the last couple years – not to his fault, but to ours."
Austin isn't the only homecoming story for the Rams. Rookie first-round running back Todd Gurley was born in Baltimore and grew up there until moving to North Carolina in his teenage years, before going into high school.
By the time he moved, Gurley had already become a Ravens fan. He said his favorite player was safety Ed Reed, though he also liked running backs Jamal Lewis and Willis McGahee.
Gurley expects a large contingent of family and friends to be in attendance at M&T Bank Stadium.
"All of my family is there," Gurley said. "It will definitely be a good feeling being able to play against a team I grew up rooting for."