Ravens' rookie Peerman is a preacher

WESTMINSTER -- The pulpit is his sanctuary, a special place where Cedric Peerman can share his thoughts and beliefs about faith and life. His sermons come from the heart, exhorting anyone willing to listen to his message of understanding, forgiveness and avoiding temptation.

For Peerman, a soft-spoken 22-year-old who seems much older because of his rare maturity, his happiest moments are generated by spreading the gospel or scoring touchdowns.

The Baltimore Ravens' rookie running back grew up steeped in church activities in rural Virginia, and the born-again Christian felt the calling to officially become an ordained minister last summer.

"I play football to glorify God, because it's my purpose," said Peerman, the team's versatile sixth-round draft pick from the University of Virginia. "Becoming a minister was something I didn't come to lightly. It was part of the journey of my life, and I have a passion for it.

"I grew up in a Baptist church all my life. So, you're definitely a product of your culture. I'm thankful that I grew up in the Peerman household. I've been blessed to have this opportunity."

This morning at the team hotel in Westminster, Peerman has been invited by team chaplain Rod Hairston to address his Ravens teammates. Urged to share his message by Hairston, Peerman is excited about the chance to witness about his faith.

It's a responsibility that Peerman takes very seriously, and he has been preparing for this sermon since training camp began.

"The general message I'm going to share, a theme for training camp and the season, is overcoming," Peerman said. "I'm going to try to feed off how we overcome emotions, the things that we think we can control, what we do and how we overcome sadness. It's about succeeding in spite of present circumstances. It's a great opportunity to share.

"I'm a rookie, so it means a lot. There's all different types of preachers. There are those that are really loud and get really into it. I don't know where I really fall. It's whatever the holy spirit leads you to do and how it leads you to act."

Peerman's message was given a popular reception last year as he drew rousing applause at a youth evangelism conference in Halifax, Va.

Peerman delivered a theme about discipline and maintaining high standards, according to a religious periodical's transcript of his remarks. "The world says get things first; but the Bible says put God first and he will give you everything you need" Peerman said at the time. "The world says get even with those who do you wrong; but the Bible says love those who hate you and God will bless you. The world says it's OK to have sex before marriage; but the Bible says sex is reserved for marriage.

"The world says party all night long; but the Bible says there is a time for everything. The world says as long as I do it and don't get caught it's alright; but the Bible says what's done in the darkness will come to light."

And Peerman doesn't hesitate to discuss his faith with teammates, including his roommate and fellow running back, Jalen Parmale.

"Cedric is always willing to share the word," Parmale said. "He's real friendly. He'll share the word any time of day if you have a question."

Faith and a strong back are two of the primary traits that were ingrained in Peerman growing up on his family's tobacco farm in Gladys, a small town in southern Virginia.

Rising at dawn and working until noon, Peerman would toil in the unforgiving heat as the 5-foot-9, 220-pound developed chiseled muscles and a tireless work ethic. The tobacco leaves that Peerman would uproot from the ground were practically as tall as him by harvest time.

"You pull it off and you walk up and down the field, and it's like walking in sand all day," Peerman said. "I think that's where I got a lot of my leg strength as a young kid, 10 years old out there working hard. It made me who I am today.

"It's a lot of hard work. It would take about a half-day to pull in a barn's worth of tobacco. If you talk to people who know, they'll tell you there's not many tougher jobs in the world. We did it together as a family, and it made us even closer."

Working on his grandfather's farm put food on the table. And his grandfather needed Peerman's assistance after suffering a stroke and being confined to a wheelchair.

Peerman learned how to fertilize, cultivate and bag tobacco. He would even tend to the farm work after school before returning to school on Friday nights for football games.

Among his tasks were driving a tractor, watering, plowing fields. In his spare time, Peerman would oversee his own cucumber farm.

"I would get up early and try to get done before it got too hot," Peerman said. "Whenever the sun came up, we would start working."

Now, only grass grows on the family farm. And Peerman's grandfather, Samuel Peerman, has passed away.

Although the farming is over, the lessons that it instilled in Peerman are applied every day.

"It gave me discipline," Peerman said. "Tobacco is a process. You plant it in the ground and it's about six inches tall and it grows to be my height. I watched many tobacco plants grow up over the years. It's a lot of hard work, but it w as important."

Peerman applied those lessons on the football field and in life, gaining 3,349 career all-purpose yards for the Cavaliers. He rushed for 1,749 yards and 15 touchdowns, also catching 67 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown.

He learned patience, too, not getting to start until his junior year and having to overcome a foot injury.

As a senior, Peerman was an honorable-mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as he rushed for a career-high 774 yards and seven touchdowns while posting 1,075 all-purpose yards.

He drew increased attention from scouts when he turned in the fastest 40-yard dash time with a 4.45 clocking at the NFL scouting combine. He also registered a 40-inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 27 times.

"Growing up, I had a lot of strength and a burst," Peerman said. "I didn't have that speed at first, but that came out later in high school."

So far, Peerman has made a strong impression on the Ravens with his game and his character.

He has made several difficult catches and has run hard when called upon in relief of primary backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee.

"He does a really good job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he's going to be a good player. I wouldn't be surprised if he's not really good on special teams early.

"And he's got great speed. He's learning pass protection still. He's learning how to be an NFL back, but he looks good."

Peerman's toughness has also drawn high marks.

"Yeah, Peerman's a tough guy for a smaller, shifty back," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He's willing to step in there and block."

Although Peerman hasn't been to seminary school yet, he has thought about leading a church as a pastor one day.

For now, he believes that his best move is continuing to play football. And he's determined to prove that teams missed out by not drafting him higher.

"I think God has to call you to be a pastor, and you have to love people," Peerman said. "I think I have that in my heart to help people. Right now, the Lord wants me to use football as that avenue and platform to reach out to young people.

"God blessed me to be underrated. I'm thankful to be in this position. I know God is going to bless me no matter what."

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

Ravens notebook: Suggs still sidelined

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' original prediction of being out for just a few days has stretched into an entire week as he recuperates from a strained Achilles' tendon and a bruised left heel.

No longer in a protective walking boot, Suggs is exercising caution as he tries to return to practice.

At this point, Suggs r emains unsure of when he'll be back and is considered a potential question mark for the Ravens' preseason opener Thursday night against the Washington Redskins.

"It's getting better, but I don't know," Suggs said. "Every day, I want to go try it, but it just ain't ready yet. When I test it out in the morning and put some weight on it, it's not ready.

"You don't want to come back too early and then start missing games for something that started small and got bigger. You have to get it healthy."

Unless Suggs returns to practice in the next few days, it appears unlikely that he would be able to play against the Redskins.

"I definitely want to be back for the Redskins because you want to get some live action," Suggs said. "I'm going to keep trying to do it, but I don't want to hurry back and mess it up more.

"It does hurt. When I press down on it, it hurts enough to keep me out of practice. It ain't nothing that's going to keep me out long."

Meanwhile, offensive tackle Michael Oher suffered a mild calf strain Saturday morning.

"It doesn't look serious," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He pinched it. It will be a rehab issue for a little while.

Offensive tackle Jared Gaither returned to practice from a minor left trapezius injury. And inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (sports hernia) is back, too.

However, reserve offensive tackle Oniel Cousins remains out with a sprained ankle.

"Oniel's going to be OK," Harbaugh said. "He's fine."

Cousins isn't expecting a long recovery time.

"I could be back out there Sunday or Monday," he said. "I'm relieved because it's not that painful."

Also not practicing due to injuries: cornerback Samari Rolle (neck), offensive guard Ben Grubbs (sprained ankle), linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (sprained toe), defensive tackle Lamar Divens (hip flexor), wide receivers Mark Clayton (left hamstring), Thomas White (hamstring) and Biren Ealy (groin).

Harbaugh said there's nothing new regarding Rolle's status. The former Pro Bowl cornerback remains on the physically unable to perform list for now.

GETTING FEISTY: Tempers flared Saturday morning with the first big altercation of training camp unfolding as offensive tackle Joe Reitz and rookie linebacker-defensive end Paul Kruger squared off after they got tangled up during a full-team drill.

The fight quickly spread to the majority of the offense versus the defense with Reitz surrounded by combatants before the scrum was quickly broken up. Play resumed without further incident.

"We've had a lot of scuffles before the whistle gets blown, I can tell you that," Harbaugh said. "Those are the scuffles we're most interested in. The other ones are irrelevant. We don't mind them.

"We don't want them. We don't not want them. We don't care about them. The ones before the whistle gets blown, those are the ones that matter. Our guys have had plenty of those."

QUICK HITS: Nickel back Chris Carr intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and slickly lateraled it to safety Haruki Nakamura. ... The Ravens gave several veterans ages 30 and over the day off, including middle linebacker Ray Lewis, wide receiver Derrick Mason, nose guard Kelly Gregg, center Matt Birk and free safety Ed Reed. Birk watched practice from the sidelines. With Birk out, Chris Chester played center with Marshal Yanda playing offensive guard as well as David Hale and Tre Stallings. ... Flacco got angry at himself, cursing when he overthrew wide receiver Demetrius Williams in the end zone. He was also intercepted by Frank Walker, throwing it directly to the cornerback. However, Flacco did throw a great spiral on a touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Smith. ... Running back Willis McGahee (left knee) and tight end Edgar Jones (leg), who both received treatment Friday, made it through practice without any problems. ... The Ravens have high hopes for wide receiver Justin Harper, who caught another touchdown pass from Troy Smith on Saturday, but want to see more consistency from him."He's done a lot of great things," Harbaugh said. "At the same time, he'll be the first to tell you, he needs to make everyone of those tough catches. The nine route at the end, he needs to run and go get that ball. But then there's four or five other routes in there that he looked really good on. That's where he's at as a young receiver." ... Tight end L.J. Smith caught a long pass behind safety Dawan Landry. Smith appears to be regaining his stride after missing time with a hamstring issue.

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

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