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WESTMINSTER — Corey Ivy’s helmet is a fierce weapon. He’s as heavy-handed as a boxer. And he relentlessly bullies receivers brave enough to cross his path.
The Baltimore Ravens’ diminutive nickel back doesn’t cut an imposing figure out of his football equipment. Compact in build and casually dressed, he usually flashes an easy smile highlighted by a gold-capped front tooth.
Yet, teammates and coaches describe Ivy as a fearsome hitter whose sheer ferocity and thirst for contact belies his lack of ideal size.
"Corey’s one of the most aggressive players we have on this team by a mile," linebacker and special-teams ace Gary Stills said. "He’s aggressive verbally and physically. He knows how to make things happen.
"Size doesn’t matter to me. Corey isn’t tall, he’s not a big guy, but he plays football with his heart. He’s a pit bull with a gold cap."
A common sight at the Ravens’ training camp, which concludes this morning at McDaniel College, is Ivy shadowing taller, heavier receivers and constantly shoving, agitating and competing for the football.
Despite standing only 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, Ivy has erased doubts about his capability to play cornerback in the NFL.
"A lot of people underestimate me, because I’m not that big in stature or overly fast, but I’m good enough to get the job done." Ivy said. "It’s about being football smart. That’s what you have to do against bigger players.
Less than a year ago during his first season in Baltimore, Ivy needed more than tenacity. The St. Louis native needed to be brave and remain calm.
Ivy suffered a lacerated kidney during an October game against the Denver Broncos, and the Ravens’ team plane made an emergency landing at 4 a.m. in Pittsburgh to treat the seventh-year defensive back when he began feeling severe discomfort.
"It was a reality check, because I had never been hurt before playing football," Ivy said. "The team cared for me like I was one of their sons, like one of their own family members. You can’t do anything but appreciate that and lay it on the line every Sunday knowing they cared so much for you when you really needed them."
It was an emotional plane ride after safety Ed Reed alerted team doctors that Ivy was in trouble.
Several players described a scene dominated by concern, and a lot of prayers.
"I got a little emotional," Stills said. "We’ve got a tight bond. When that happened to him, I was a little shook up. I don’t want to lose any of my fellow teammates. I was disturbed."
Ivy healed rapidly enough that three games later he intercepted a pass in a 27-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Plus, he had a fumble-forcing sack of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that set up a 57-yard touchdown return by Adalius Thomas. Ivy also helped limit Steelers star wide receiver Hines Ward to four receptions for 33 yards.
Ivyâ€™s performance and speedy recovery defied Pittsburgh medical officialsâ€™ initial prognosis, prompting jokes that the doctor must have been a Steelers fan.
â€œWhen I was in Pittsburgh, the doctors told me I would actually have to sit out the rest of the season,â€ Ivy said. â€œThe athletic trainer back in Baltimore said, â€˜Donâ€™t listen to them.’"
Ivy had to grit his teeth for the remainder of the season. He was never 100 percent, finally feeling like his old self by this spring.
Because of Ivy’s dramatic recuperation from his medical crisis, his teammates voted him as the Ravens’ recipient of the 29th annual Ed Block Courage Award as one of 32 NFL players to receive the reward during an offseason banquet at Martin’s West.
"Corey is a pit bull, and he’s tougher than nails," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "There are very few people as tough as him. He’s an amazing guy, but that’s why he made it. He’s one of the toughest cats in the league. He’s a survivor."
For Ivy, 30, the recognition gave him pause and it spurred emotions.
"This award means a lot, it’s something I’ll sit back and always remember," Ivy said. "It means they knew I was going to always lay it on the line for them and the fans. I’m very grateful for that."
After going undrafted out of Oklahoma and signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots, Ivy bounced around the NFL from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the St. Louis Rams before signing a three-year contract with the Ravens last year.
In 13 games last season, Ivy had 17 tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks and 14 special-teams tackles. And he was voted the team’s Unsung Hero by a Ravens fan club.
It looks like Ivy, who has registered 100 career tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles, has found a home in Baltimore.
"This is a great organization," Ivy said. "This is a place I’ve become accustomed to, and I’ve built a lot of friendships.
â€œThe coaches have pushed me real hard and made me a better player. It’s definitely a place I would like to stay."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.