OWINGS MILLS – Ramon Harewood was ambling through a college fair in his native Barbados six years ago as a high school senior, pondering his future when he was discovered by Atlanta track and field coach Michael Grant.
The chance meeting between a towering, hulking teenager and Grant ultimately created a historic path that guided Harewood to the Baltimore Ravens as the first player from Barbados to reach the NFL.
Harewood had the brain of a rocket scientist and a body frame that approached the height and bulk of former Ravens tackle Orlando Brown.
"I’m looking at him from a recruiting standpoint, going, ‘Oh my God,’" Grant said.
Grant couldn’t believe his eyes.
Harewood was academically gifted with a 1370 SAT score. He was 6-foot-6 and well over 300 pounds.
And the young man was athletic enough to excel on junior national teams in rugby, track and field, and volleyball. He also played a mean game of cricket.
Grant went to work on Harewood, convincing him to enroll at Morehouse after he first attended the University of West Indies.
"He saw me at a rugby game and some track meets and was like, ‘Dude, I’m telling you, you need to be overseas playing sports,’" Harewood said.
Nicknamed "Big Mon," Harewood was reluctant at first to leave his hometown of St. Michael to head to the United States.
He loved the Carribean island and the familiarity and sheltered existence that comes with living in St. Michael, a town with a population just under 100,000.
It wasn’t until he saw a friend, not a girlfriend he emphasized with a smile, earn a volleyball scholarship to an American university that he decided to take Grant up on his offer. By this time, Grant had joined the Morehouse football coaching staff.
"I really wasn’t interested in leaving because when you’re from a small town, you don’t know anything other than that," Harewood recounted. "You don’t really want to leave, but I got jealous, thinking, ‘Man, everyone is getting these scholarships and leaving. I want one, too."
Harewood enrolled at Morehouse on an academic scholarship, majoring in applied physics and engineering and earning Dean’s List recognition.
He had never played much organized football before, but his huge frame, natural athleticism and quick mind allowed him to dominate the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as a two-time first-team all-conference selection.
In 30 starts, Harewood recorded nearly 100 pancake blocks.
Academically, Harewood thrived as he earned two degrees with a 3.0-plus grade point average.
He declined the offer of a football scholarship, choosing to remain on an academic scholarship rather than cost one of his teammates their athletic scholarship. It was an act of unselfishness and self-motivation.
"At Division II, you only had a certain amount of scholarships," said Harewood, who’s also a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. "I could have gotten a full scholarship, tuition, room and board, whereas a lot of my teammates only got a half-scholarship. That was a big part of it.
"And the main reason was because I wanted to keep my grades up. Even if you have an academic scholarship, you have to maintain a 3.0. That way, I got to play football and keep my grades up."
Not invited to the NFL scouting combine or major college all-star games except for the Texas vs. the Nation game, Harewood was regarded as a sleeper until his Pro Day workout.
At roughly 360 pounds, he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds.
He also registered an eye-popping 9-foot-3-inch broad jump.
"There were 20 teams at his pro day, including a general manager, and several offensive line position coaches," said Damien Butler, Harewood’s agent and mentor. "You rarely see a GM at a Pro Day."
Before the draft, Harewood visited the Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Ravens were intrigued.
"Harewood is a huge man. I mean he’s a giant," director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. "You guys are going to see him, he’s massive. He can knock down his side of the line of scrimmage.
"He needs a lot of developmental work and technique, but he’s got foot speed. He’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s got the passion and drive to get better."
During the NFL draft, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome dialed up Harewood and told him that he planned to draft him with the 194th overall pick if he got past the Green Bay Packers’ selection one pick before Baltimore was on the clock.
"I couldn’t react," Harewood said. "I was on the phone with Ozzie Newsome. The Packers made their pick and then right after that I saw my name come up on the screen. He said, ‘You have a chance to play for the Ravens for a long time.’"
Harewood suffered soft-tissue damage in his knee during a minicamp drill, but has recovered from the injury. The Ravens are enamored of his vast potential, but the relatively raw prospect still has a lot to learn.
"Our coaches really like him," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. "I think he’s got a lot of upside."
If Harewood had wanted, he could be making a good living today as an engineer instead of as a gigantic blocker. He’s extremely happy with his choice of the NFL, though.
"All my friends graduated already," Harewood said. "In Barbados, our education is based off the British system. Once you leave at 18, you get a year off of college and then you work towards your degree. All I did since I was 14 years old was take subjects I liked.
"So, when I was young, it was technical drawing, physics that kind of stuff. I gravitated toward engineering. If it hadn’t happened, I would probably still be back there playing volleyball and rugby. .. My education is important to me, but right now my priority is football."
Most of his friends have already joined the work force. Signed to a three-year, $1.28 million contract that included a $74,175 signing bonus, Harewood is loving the game of football.
Like his journey from Barbados to Atlanta and now to Baltimore, he’s forging his own unique path.
"I wanted to try and do something different with my life," Harewood said. "I’m the only one over here trying to make it."
Back in Barbados, Harewood’s burgeoning NFL career has spawned major headlines and nationwide pride.
It hasn’t sunk in just yet for Harewood that he’ll make history as he’s set to report to his first NFL training camp Monday at McDaniel College with rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans.
"Right now, I’m just trying to be the best I can, getting my fundamentals and technique right," Harewood said. "If I was to go back home, I might have a different perspective. I don’t know what’s happening. I just know they’re all proud of me."