Throughout his 16-year NFL career, Ray Lewis has experienced everything. He has reached the peak of football success, beating the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. He has suffered agonizing defeat, losing to the Steelers in last year's Divisional playoff. Put simply, he's done it all: 12 Pro Bowls, 40.5 sacks, countless bone-jarring collisions.
Oct. 7 brought something new. Roaming the sidelines in Lake Mary, Fla., during Baltimore's Week 4 bye, Lewis watched his son, Ray III, sprint off the field. Ray III screamed for the 26 counter, begging his coach for a play call. It was déjà vu. Two decades earlier, he'd done the same thing.
"I went to my coach in a crucial game and yelled, 'Give me the 28 pitch,'" said Ray Sr. "I remember the exact scene."
He better get used to the feeling. A junior at Lake Mary Prep, Ray III has developed into a top-ranked recruit, a 5-9, 180-pound dynamo with tremendous athleticism. Comparisons between the two, however premature, are inevitable.
The similarities are striking. Ray III has the same work ethic, the same unfiltered personality. He follows the same training routine, completing a two-week camp with his father each summer. He even possesses the same dogged intensity, replicating the "What time is it?" routine before every game. "I'm exactly like my dad," Ray III said. "Mirror image."
The difference? Ray III does most of his damage from the backfield.
Through seven games in 2011, he racked up 1,464 rushing yards, 234 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns, leading the Griffins, 6-1, to their best start in school history. He maintains a stark unwillingness to go out of bounds -- a perceived admission of defeat -- a trait that coach Sheddrick "Buck" Gurley likens to Walter Payton. "The stiff arm he used to do, the quick feet the change of direction, the eyes [Payton] had -- this guy has that in high school," Gurley said.
With just 18 players on its active roster (Lake Mary's student body, K-12, is just 650 students), Ray III has also been forced to play linebacker, wide receiver and safety, his versatility a necessity. It's provided him with an understanding of the game that belies his age.
"He's picking up on stuff that normally college kids wouldn't pick up on," said Gurley. "He knows where a linebacker is gonna be, when he needs to make that cut, how he needs to make that cut."
During a game against Windermere Prep last September, Ray III collected 504 yards: 206 on punt returns, 101 on kick returns, 104 rushing, 27 receiving and 66 passing. "It's almost scary to watch my son play," said Ray Sr. "He has a knack for the game. Period."
Of course, don't rule out his defensive prospects. As an NFL Draft hopeful in 1996, Ray Sr. was also labeled too small, falling to the fourth linebacker selected behind Kevin Hardy, John Mobley and Reggie Brown. His response? A rookie season with 110 tackles, including a league-leading 15 for loss.
"It's never the biggest, fastest or strongest person that makes it," said Ray Sr. "But I don't know a living human being who is gonna flat-out out work me. And my son has that same drive."
But Ray III has made it clear: He's trying to carve his own legacy. He wants to be remembered for his own on-field accomplishments, not for being the son of one of the league's most recognizable stars. His dream is bigger: He wants to one-up his dad.
"He told me he wants to be better than his father," said Gurley. "Once a kid says something like that, that's pretty special."
Ray III is still just a junior. He's still a year removed from likely committing to a Division-I program. Before analysts anoint him as a future Pro Bowler, as destined for his father's success, he needs to prove that he can overpower more than Florida Class 2A competition. That's no easy feat.
But he has a plan -- and a guide -- to help navigate the way. "My goal is definitely to be in the NFL," he said. "I don't even really care what team."
"I never really liked Pittsburgh," he said.
Like father, like son.
RB Barry Sanders Jr. -- A five-star recruit at Heritage High (Okla.), Sanders harkens memories of his legendary dad. His elusive running style has baffled prep defenders, helping the Chargers compile a 15-0 record and Class 3A title in 2010. He's duplicating that success this year: Sanders has 633 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, and Heritage Hall is 7-0. He's weighing offers from Alabama, Oklahoma State and Florida State, among others.
DE Mario Edwards Jr. -- At 6-4 and 285 pounds, Edwards is an intimidating physical presence. He's even scarier once the ball snaps. The son of the former Cowboys and Buccaneers' corner Mario Sr., Edwards tallied 127 tackles and 18 sacks as a junior, and has led Denton (Texas) to a 8-0 mark this season. Arguably the most gifted pass rusher in the class of 2012, he committed to Florida State -- his father's alma mater -- in March.
DT Darius Hamilton -- Part of Don Bosco Prep's (N.J.) quartet of All-Americans, Hamilton has been nothing short of dominant. The son of 12-year Giants' defensive tackle, Keith, Darius piled up 63 tackles and 12.5 sacks last year, anchoring Bosco's historically talented unit. During the Ironmen's current 41-game winning streak, a span dating back to '08, the defense has allowed a meager nine points per game.