Cover Story: Ronnie Stanley Makes His Return at Home in Las Vegas In his first regular-season game since ankle surgery, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will have many emotions playing in his hometown before family and friends.
By: Clifton Brown
For Ronnie Stanley, Las Vegas is home.
It's not about the bright lights, the Vegas strip or the gambling. His parents still live there. It's where Stanley learned to play football, went to high school - the place where his childhood memories come to life.
Stanley has never played an NFL game in his hometown and neither have the Ravens. That will change when Baltimore begins its 2021 season, facing the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football.
For Stanley, the symbolism can't be ignored. The All-Pro left tackle is returning from the most serious injury of his career, a severely fractured left ankle that ended Stanley's 2020 season on Nov. 1. The past 10 months have included grueling days of rehab, pain and doubt.
"During that process, there were times when I couldn't even feel my foot under myself," Stanley said. "I was wondering, 'Am I going to be able to do the things I need to do, to play at the level I want to play?' Those thoughts definitely went through my head."
Those doubts are gone. Stanley put in the work and he's back, determined not just to return, but to immediately reestablish his presence as a dominant left tackle. Knowing what her son has endured, Stanley's mother, Juli, will have many emotions watching from the stands at Allegiant Stadium. It will be a proud moment, with at least 20 of Stanley's family and friend in the stands, rooting like crazy for her son and the Ravens.
"The ironic thing is, so many of our family and friends are Raiders fans," Juli said, laughing over the phone. "But of course, when he's here, everyone is going to be wearing purple.
"It's almost surreal. Lots of emotions. Physically, he's coming out of something he's never experienced before. I know he has internal strength. I also know he's the type of kid that wants to do everything right. I know he's going to be prepared. But this is different coming home, and it's been so long. Notre Dame never played here when he was in college. It's exciting, but it's also emotional for me."
Shawn Hubbard/© Shawn Hubbard / Baltimore Ravens 2016 A Deep Thinker Who's Highly Competitive
Returning to Vegas will be emotional for Stanley too, but he may not show it during the game. Stanley isn't a fist-pumper or trash-talker. He's a deep thinker, someone who decides precisely what he wants to do, then goes about the business of doing it.
Stanley's business is to help ignite Baltimore's NFL-best running game, and to protect Lamar Jackson's blindside. He does it with excellence. During his last full season in 2019, Stanley allowed no sacks during the regular season and just six quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He had a pass-blocking grade of 93.7, one of the best PFF has ever recorded.
If Stanley has his way, former Raven Yannick Ngakoue and the Raiders' other pass rushers won't touch Jackson on Monday night. Stanley takes protecting Jackson personally. On the rare occasions when Stanley allows someone to make contact with the Ravens' quarterback, Stanley usually apologizes to Jackson. Not after the game, but immediately, before the next play.
What does Jackson say?
"He says, 'You're good man,'" Stanley said smiling. "I build up a lot of guilt sometimes. That's something I've got to work on.
"I'm very competitive. I take pride in my team winning. I take what I do seriously. I know how much energy and focus I put into it."
"It's the standard I hold myself to - play in and play out. What I deem is acceptable to me, how much I analyze myself on film, I think that helps me be the best player I can be. It's rewarding to know that. I don't need the whole world to know how focused I am. As long as I know it, I'm ok."
The sixth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, Stanley has been everything the Ravens expected and more. The seven top picks in that draft have all made the Pro Bowl at least once - Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey, Stanley and DeForest Buckner.
Stanley is the only offensive lineman in that group, which means he wasn't the sexy pick. But he was the right pick, and he has silenced critics who misunderstood Stanley's even-keeled demeanor and questioned his passion for football during the draft process.
"I remember hearing when he came out of Notre Dame that he wasn't mean enough," Juli said. "If he's going to knock somebody down, he knocks them down. What does he have to do, step on them? That doesn't mean he's not competitive. The kid is competitive as heck."
Shawn Hubbard @shawn_hubbard/© Baltimore Ravens 2021 Coming Back From Injury
Stanley and her husband, Ron, a retired pilot, were not in Baltimore the day Stanley was injured. They were watching from their home in Vegas, in separate rooms as always. Stanley's parents can't sit together when they watch him play on television. They drive each other crazy.
"My husband likes to explain," Juli said. "He has his version of what happened and I have mine. To save ourselves from just going at it all game, we separate."
The moment Stanley went down with his injury, Juli sensed it was serious. She walked into the room where his father was watching and they stared at the television together.
"I can't explain it, but I was eerily calm," Juli said. "I had no reaction. I didn't feel my heart pounding, nothing. I guess I just knew. By the time I got back to the other room, his agent was on the phone with me."
Juli flew to Baltimore for Stanley's surgery, and she knew the next months would be difficult for him. But Stanley's stoic demeanor had already kicked in.
"'I'm good, Mom,' That's the answer I got, that's the answer I always get from him," Juli said. "He was already beginning his emotional comeback from this. That's him. You're not going to get a lot of words. Not a whole lot of emotion. He tends to be very philosophical about life, but he has strong opinions."
Every year, Stanley has become a better player and more depended upon for leadership on the offensive line. That has never been more true than this season.
Bradley Bozeman is moving to center, veterans Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva were signed during free agency to anchor the right side, and there will be a new starting left guard Monday night to replace Bozeman. Stanley is the only starting lineman from last season returning to the same position, the anchor of a front five whose performance is crucial to the team's success.
Not only is Stanley helping his offensive linemates, he's giving pointers to rookie pass rushers Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes, giving them an offensive lineman's perspective to help them develop moves.
Stanley signed a five-year contract extension just two days before he was injured, another twist of fate that is difficult to ignore. His financial future is secure, and he is glad to be tied to the Ravens long-term. He loves the culture in the locker room and wouldn't want to play anywhere else.
"We don't have a bad apple in the room," Stanley said. "It's amazing."
Photos via Juli Stanley How Vegas Shaped Him
Stanley had the same close-knit culture growing up in Vegas with his parents as the oldest of three children. His brother, Robert, and sister, Raychel, who lives in California, will also be at the game - the first time the entire Stanley family will watch him in person since he joined the Ravens.
He is a man of many interests, always open to new things, like his passion for making ice cream.
Talk with Stanley or follow him on social media and the topics can quickly change from sports, to social justice, to his love for dogs, to food. He credits growing up in Vegas for giving him an eclectic view of the world, one that helps him connect easily with people although he's rarely the loudest voice in the room.
"Vegas is a big melting pot of cultures and people," Stanley said. "We have the fun side, the strip, the gambling, all the shows, but there's a lot of real culture spread out throughout the city. They have great food variety. You get exposed to a lot of different people there. People from all walks of life will come to Vegas, retire, and set their roots down there. I've hung out with people who barely have any money and people who are billionaires. I've seen many different personalities and learned from many different people. Being closeminded is something I don't understand."
Stanley won three high school state championships playing at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, and he longs for another championship. He believes the Ravens have what it takes. He understands the legacy of the left tackle position with the Ravens that was started by Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, and Stanley would love to join Ogden in Canton one day. But what he wants most to share with Ogden is owning a Super Bowl ring.
"I told all the scouts during the draft process that I'll never get used to losing," Stanley said. "I was never okay with coming up short. I always felt like I had to do more, even if it wasn't my fault.
"I used to think about Hall of Fame, Pro Bowl. Now, I really just want to win. If those things come, I'll be appreciative. I believe the more I focus on winning, those things will fall into place."
When Stanley joins his teammates running out of the tunnel Monday night, his life will be back in place. Despite the presence of his family, this is a business trip for Stanley, although he says he'll figure out a way to place an order from Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers while he's in Vegas.
"Their sauce is the boss," Stanley said. "Some people try to hate on it, act like it's average. It's great. That's my spot."
His spot is also on the left side of the offensive line, and returning to regular-season action in Vegas will become a new hometown memory that will be forever etched in his memory. Stanley will be back home, in every way, and he's ready for the moment.
"I'm super-excited, but I've learned how to handle that," Stanley said. "For me to be consistent, I can't be too high or too low. If you're going to play a whole game and be consistent for three hours, you can't just be up all the time. There has to be a balance.
"But never in my whole life did I think I'd be playing a football game in my home city. I think it's going to be really cool, especially with my family there. I'll appreciate being in that moment. Coming back from the injury, it's going to be an overwhelming feeling."
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