Ayanbadejo: 'Everything's come full circle'

OWINGS MILLS -- Immortalized on a YouTube video clip, special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo streaks down the football field with his helmet on a swivel before uncoiling to deck a San Francisco 49ers kickoff returner. The flamboyant, two-time Pro Bowl selection punctuates the hit with his trademark muscle-flexing.

During several other sequences, the Baltimore Ravens' newest acquisition springs free Chicago Bears speedster Devin Hester -- the league's preeminent return specialist -- for yet another touchdown.

It's a testament to the former Bears linebacker's approach to the game, an aggressive mentality that the Ravens rewarded with a four-year, $4.925 million contract that includes a $1.9 million signing bonus.

Whereas some players score touchdowns, Ayanbadejo uses his helmet, shoulder pads and relentlessness as a weapon in the kicking game.

"That's my bread and butter, that's what I do," Ayanbadejo said Monday during an introductory press conference at the Ravens' training complex. "We all know that special teams takes special effort. You've got to have a guy out there that will give his maximum. You don't have to be the best player on the field, nor the fastest or strongest.

"But you do have to be the guy that is going to play hardest from whistle to whistle giving his best effort. That's kind of my approach in life. Everything I do I want to be the best at it."

It wasn't a coincidence that Ayanbadejo is the first and only free agent the Ravens have signed, or that he chose Baltimore over the New York Jets' competing proposal after the Bears rescinded their offer for him to remain in Chicago.

Beyond a lucrative contract offer, new Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles' special teams for nine seasons, sold Ayanbadejo on himself while engaging in a little pickup basketball.

"The Ravens stepped up and basically took out any indecision," Ayanbadejo said. "They had the best contract, by far. They wanted me the most. The head coach was walking me around the facility and we played basketball, watched some guys play racquetball.

"I never did that with Lovie Smith, and Lovie Smith is a great coach. For me, the coach exceeded what I already had with Lovie, and Lovie had this stature of kind of a hero. Coach Harbaugh exceeded that in my eyes. It's pretty amazing."

Another reason Ayanbadejo picked the Ravens was a strong recommendation from his older brother, former Baltimore fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, who played on the Ravens' Super Bowl championship team.

"He didn't have anything bad to say, he said, 'Go play in Baltimore, you'll love to play football there," Ayanbadejo said. "He said, 'The type of team, the personality of the team, you'll fit right in.' And here I am."

Ayanbadejo has recorded the second-most special-teams tackles in the league over the past two seasons, according to Scouts, Inc. He registered 26 special-teams tackles last season and forced two fumbles, registering 124 special-teams tackles in five NFL seasons.

Although the Ravens allocated the 6-foot-1, 228-pounder former UCLA player to NFL Europe in 2001, he never really got a chance to prove himself during his first stint in Baltimore. He was cut days before training camp.

"I never thought I'd be coming back," Ayanbadejo said. "[Director of pro personnel] George [Kokinis] told me, 'I learned something from that. You never cut a guy before he get a chance to step on the field.' I said, 'I'm glad it was at my expense.'"

Ayanbadejo's evolution from an expendable undrafted rookie free agent to the dues he paid with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions before establishing himself with the Miami Dolphins and Bears has provided him a different take on his NFL journey.

"My perspective is that I've experienced everything, the full gamut," he said. "I've been all the way around and everything's come full circle. So, I think you'll find a guy that's a lot more appreciative. My whole thing is that I was never going to let my personality or my attitude affect my ability ever again."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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