Ravens' Demps returns to old stomping grounds

Will Demps emerged from the shadows that envelop most undrafted rookies to earn a job in the Baltimore Ravens' secondary. Before the free safety morphed from an unknown fourth-stringer to an NFL starter last year, he didn't have the typical pedigree of a big man on campus.

At least, not initially.

Demps progressed from a freshman walk-on without a scholarship to become an all-conference safety at San Diego State. Now, Demps is back where his football climb began: In San Diego, practicing on his alma mater's fields as the Ravens (1-1) prepare to play the Chargers (0-2) on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

"You never think you're going to be back here in an NFL uniform," said Demps, who will play in the nickel package as cornerback Corey Fuller is healthy and Gary Baxter will start at free safety. "It's going to be very sweet to be out there in front of friends and family. This is so exciting. "It's going to be fun, but I definitely have to concentrate. I want to look good back in my old neighborhood."

Although Demps emphasized several times that this is a business trip for him, it's also a chance to renew ties and check in on his younger brother, Marcus Demps, a starting strong safety for the Aztecs. Demps hopes to use a portion of his free time today to watch San Diego State host Samford (Ala.) at Qualcomm.

"Marcus is a good athlete," Demps said. "It's going to be fun to watch him play. I'm going to check it out for an hour or so then I have to get back to watching film."

Then, Marcus will watch Will on Sunday as the Demps' brothers attempt to go 2-0 this weekend in San Diego.

"I guess he would have to be considered the better player right now because he's in the NFL," Marcus Demps told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week. "But we've always been competitive, even playing video games. He has always told me to work hard and maintain my focus."

When Demps arrived at San Diego State from Palmdale, Calif, he found himself behind 10 other safeties on the depth chart. He proved to the coaching staff that he wasn't going to quit, unlike so many other walk-ons. By his sophomore year, he returned an interception 73 yards for a touchdown against Wyoming, the year he was awarded a scholarship.

Demps was twice named All-Mountain West Conference with 229 career tackles and five interceptions. "I stuck it out," Demps said. "I was going to school and football was the source of my scholarship. It gave me almost everything I have today."

Last season, Demps started 10 games for the Ravens and collected 64 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception that preserved a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In last week's 33-13 win over the Browns, Demps improved from an opening-game loss against the Steelers when he was partially responsible for a touchdown pass. He had four tackles, broke up a pass and forced Browns running back William Green to fumble with a big hit.

This week is another test of Demps' mettle as he has to block out the potential distractions of being back on familiar ground. "I just talked to Will about that, about people tugging on you," secondary coach Donnie Henderson said. "He needs to maintain his focus and he will, just like he responded to a rough game up in Pittsburgh."

Demps said he has far different goals than simply reminiscing about the past, of reflecting on his journey. He's grounded in the reality of the present as Baltimore attempts to achieve a winning mark.

"You came so far, but you don't want to think about that until you're already done," Demps said. "I don't want it to stop."

NOTES: Ravens coach Brian Billick and special teams coordinator Gary Zauner were assistant coaches at San Diego State from 1981 to 1985. Defensive lineman Joe Salave'a was a standout at San Diego's Oceanside High School. Quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw was born in San Diego.

Reach staff writer Aaron Wilson at 410-751-5919 or sports@lcniofmd.com

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