Joey Donnelly sat in his Gambrills home this past Sunday and watched his favorite Ravens football player, Ray Rice, score a touchdown on the team's way to their sixth victory this season.
Two days later, Rice would sling his massive arm around Donnelly's shoulder on stage in front of all of his friends and classmates.
"It's an indescribable feeling," said Donnelly, 11, who has become the most popular kid at St. Paul's Lutheran School since he was announced the winner of The Greene Turtle's contest to bring the Pro-Bowl running back to class.
Donnelly jumped around his house after he got the phone call from his dad.
"I just couldn't believe it," Donnelly told Patch.
Rice shook hands, signed autographs and posed for pictures with with Joey and his brother, Nick, his mother, Patty, and his father, Patrick.
"It's all he was talking about for the past month," Patrick said.
Rice also greeted more than 300 screaming students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, in the auditorium. He discussed staying in school and making schoolwork fun, as well as bullying—something he has been particularly outspoken about.
Having seen a number of his former classmates join gangs and sell drugs, Rice said his life experience should be a lesson that, even in rough situations, young kids can still make decisions in their lives to help them as they become adults.
"I was not perfect in school," Rice said. "But it didn't make me less of a person to ask for help."
He said he found help in friends who excelled in math, in exchange for help training and lifting weights. He encouraged kids to not only embrace their teachers, but also their classmates, who could help them along in the future.
"Take advantage of all of this right here. Get along with one another and get to know each other," Rice said.
For more than an hour, Rice took questions from more than 20 students who wanted to know about his other favorite sports (basketball and baseball), his best friend on the Ravens (Ray Lewis) and his favorite non-sports activity (playing Xbox video games).
Michele Stinchcomb, Joey's teacher, took the opportunity to discuss how even athletes need to be good students before they can excel at the college and professional levels.
"We talked about what it means to be an athlete and about how important our academics are with being an athlete," Stinchcomb told Patch. "Ray was a perfect role model for our students."
Rice has been a big part of the Ravens' 6-2 season thus far, leading their rushing attack with 622 yards. Rice and the Ravens host the Oakland Raiders at 1 p.m. this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
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