In Ernest Joe's house lay all sorts of jerseys, pictures and autographs from Ray Lewis.
There's even a signed shirt from Lewis that reads, "Thanks for being a father in need."
The friendship began in 1991, when Joe had just taken over as head coach at Kathleen High School.
He noticed a muscle-bound Lewis walking by his office after a spring practice.
"I was just learning the players," said Joe, "and he caught my eye. It was just that physique."
Joe was ecstatic to learn Lewis was only a rising junior in high school.
At the time, Lewis was being raised by his grandparents. Lewis gravitated to Joe as a mentor and father figure.
In 2001, Lewis told reporters of his relationship with Joe, "That's a man who has played a vital part of my life in the way I am now."
Joe remembers how Lewis developed into a standout linebacker, running back and kick returner at Kathleen. "If he told you he could do something, you write it down," Joe said.
One game in Lewis' senior season, Joe had called running plays for Lewis the majority of the fourth quarter. Kathleen won the game, but Lewis told his coach the following Monday of what he thought would be a better strategy.
"I'll remember this for the rest of my life. He said, 'Give me the ball when I have fresh legs.' Remember, he's starting on offense and defense. So the next week we play Haines City High School. They were ranked No. 10 in the state. I give him the ball the first play of the game, and he goes 81 yards (for a touchdown). From that day on, whatever Ray said when he came to the sideline, we worked with that."
The two men stayed close when Lewis started what would become an All-America career at the University of Miami. "He called me, and I heard him say, ‘Coooooach!'" Joe recalls after Lewis had finished one of his first fall practices. "I knew then. I said, ‘Whoa, he's tearing it up.'"
Shortly after Lewis made the NFL, he invited his former high school coach to a Ravens' game. Joe had never ridden in a plane before and had apprehensions toward taking a flight. "He said, 'Coach, you coached us up on the field to be tough. You've got to man up.'"
In 2000, two days after Lewis was arrested on double-murder charges, he called Joe from jail in Atlanta. Joe went to visit him. "I wanted to see his eyes," said Joe. "He told me, 'Coach, I didn't do it."
After the charges against Lewis were dropped, he became one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. Even Joe was surprised Lewis is retiring, thinking he would play another three or four seasons. "When you hear the name ‘Ray Lewis,'" Joe said, "it makes me feel full of pride to know I had the opportunity to coach him and go through some special times with him."
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