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From now through kickoff at USA Football's 2017 National Conference at Pro Bowl, we will take a look at some of the notable speakers and sessions on the docket for one of the country’s largest gatherings of high school football coaches.
Name: Jerome Bettis
Position: ESPN NFL analyst; Pro Football Hall of Famer
Twitter handle: @JeromeBettis36
Name: Ray Lewis
Position: ESPN NFL analyst; two-time NFL Super Bowl champion
Twitter handle: @raylewis
Session title: What high school football taught me
Session date, time: Saturday, January 28, 2 p.m.
2017 National Conference website: http://usafootball.com/nationalconference
Before they were winning Super Bowls, Jerome Bettis and Ray Lewis were simply high school football players with big dreams.
The former was as much a standout in the classroom as he was on the gridiron, developing a reputation for always sitting in the front of the class and earning a spot in the National Honors Society.
Of course, he was no slouch playing football either. Bettis played fullback and linebacker, leading Mackenzie (Detroit) to a league title and a state playoff berth. He was the state’s No. 1-ranked player before he made his way to Notre Dame.
Bettis was once asked what he remembered about his high school career. His first reaction had little to do with football wins and losses.
“The experience, the friendships that I found and have nurtured through the years,” Bettis said. “I had some great teachers in high school. I remember the teachers…My high school coach was very influential (in my life).”
Three years later in the central part of Florida, Ray Lewis was making a name for himself playing for Kathleen (Lakeland).
Lewis did everything for Kathleen, playing linebacker, running back, punter returner and kick returner.
He was the same charismatic, tough-as-nails figure that college and NFL fans would soon get to know.
“He outworked every kid we had,” said one former Kathleen coach. “He walked out the back door of the locker room every day with a smile on his face. He loved to practice as much as he loved to play a game on Friday night."
Lewis went on to lead the Ravens to two Super Bowls, the first of which was Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, just 35 miles from where he suited up in high school at Kathleen.
That night, Lewis watched his football career come full circle, from high school glory to becoming a Super Bowl Champion. At the 2017 USA Football National Conference at Pro Bowl, he and Bettis will connect the football circle again, when they discuss how the lessons they learned playing football in the prep ranks continues to influence them today.
Stories from the football lives of players, parents, coaches and fans.