Gaither Beginning His Own Story


The Ravens have been without All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden before, but not often.

Over the past four seasons, Ogden has missed 11 games due to injury.

Unlike those years, however, the Ravens know this year his return will not be on the horizon.

Fortunately for Ravens fans, second-year tackle Jared Gaither looks poised to step into the position.

Both Ogden and Gaither hail from the Washington, D.C. area. Both stand 6-foot-9 and weigh in at more than 330 pounds. Those who saw Gaither star at the University of Maryland for two seasons were excited to have him on board after the team drafted him in the fifth round of the 2007 Supplemental Draft.

Many could see obvious similarities between the D.C. products. But when Ogden retired over the summer, he had a piece of advice for his heir apparent.

"Don't try to be me," the 11-time Pro Bowler simply stated.

Despite all the comparisons, to this point, Gaither has not.

"I started playing football in camps for fun when I was in high school," Gaither said of his late entrance to the game. "I was fortunate to go to a great high school that had a great football team, and eventually I just joined the team."

Unlike Ogden, who was groomed for NFL stardom from an early age and dominated the competition at St. Alban's High School, Gaither was known as a basketball player while at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Even though he did not join the football team until his senior season, he immediately made a major impact on the defensive line.

A year at Hargrave Military Academy furthered the young behemoth's development to the point where he left as the third-most coveted prep school prospect in the nation. When nearby Maryland came calling offering a chance to start right away, Gaither seized the opportunity.

Still, there were questions even then about Gaither's dedication to football. In addition to starring for the Terrapins' football team, many thought that Gaither would take the opportunity to play for Gary Williams and the Maryland basketball team.

"There was some talk of that," Gaither admitted, "but it never really went past talk. It was a tough enough job to play for the University of Maryland in football."

With his basketball career in the rearview mirror, Gaither focused on developing what remained a newfound skill.

It developed very quickly.

In 23 collegiate games, Gaither was responsible for allowing just 1.5 sacks. After his freshman season, he was a third-team Freshman All-American. Going into his sophomore year, he was on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, awarded to college football's best interior lineman.

After joining the Ravens, Gaither spent a year as Ogden's understudy, seeing time in six games (two starts) last year as Ogden battled through an injury-plagued season.

Faced with the proposition of being the full-time starter this year, Gaither came to training camp in great shape, ready to get down to business after an offseason of workouts. Anchoring a young line, Gaither looked good in the first few days of camp.

But then, the left tackle of the future was forced to the sidelines with an ankle injury.

As Ogden predicted, there was suddenly immense pressure on the young lineman. Not only was he stepping in for a future Hall of Famer, he was also rehabbing an injury that prevented him from getting valuable practice time with a young offensive unit.

"It was tough," Gaither remembered. "I've just been working hard to get back on the field. I had to have confidence that everything was going to be OK, and it has been. I'm just happy to be back with the team on the field."

Along the way, Gaither has sought advice from Ogden. While the former star advised Gaither against trying to emulate him, there was still much that he could offer.

"We have had good conversations about how to go about everything and have a sound technique," Gaither said of their talks. "He just told me how to go about my business. He is a great person, and I'm thankful that I had someone like him in front of me last year.

"He's someone who can be a great mentor to me this year."

His teammates are seeing Gaither's hard work pay off already.

"He's dedicated," said line-mate Ben Grubbs. "He's asking me if I'm watching film. Last year it was the other way around. He's on the right track, and I'm looking forward to a great season playing next to him."

Local fans have seen Gaither's entire football life play out in front of their eyes and now he takes it to a national stage. In just five quick years, he has gone from never playing to preparing to start for an NFL team.

Jared Gaither is not Jonathan Ogden. But with continued hard work and dedication, and a little help from the old pro, he may, as Ogden also said that day in June, "be as good, if not better, one day."

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