Owings Mills, Md. – The city of Baltimore is not New York City when it comes to entertainment and nightlife. But Charm City has a number of popular spots in the Inner Harbor, with the notable National Aquarium, the long lines at the Cheesecake Factory and other eateries and the nearby home of baseball’s Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
But Keith Wenning has had no time for any of these attractions since he was drafted May 10th in the sixth round by the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens, whose M&T Bank Stadium home is also in the Inner Harbor.
“It’s football all day," said former Ball State standout quarterback Wenning, wearing a red No. 10 jersey after a recent Organized Team Activity (OTA) in suburban Baltimore. "Our days are long. We have not had a chance to see what Baltimore is all about. Any free time I have is with the playbook,”
Wenning has been staying with other rookies at a nearby hotel during OTAs and a shuttle leaves at 5:30 a.m. for the 15-minute drive to the Ravens’ headquarters, with the official address of 1 Winning Drive for an organization that has won two Super Bowl titles.
When the day is done Wenning has supper at the hotel and then spends about two hours going through the team playbook before heading to bed at around 9 p.m.
“It is a dream come true,” said Wenning, listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. “This is what you dream about as a kid. Once you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. You have to grind through a lot of things. That is the sacrifice you have to make.”
Wenning was a 2013 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Finalist – named for the former Baltimore Colts’ legend - and was a 2013 All-Mid American Conference Second team member. He threw for 4148 yards and 35 touchdowns last season.
“My four years at Ball State were unbelievable,” he says. “Going back to my freshman year and playing right away and learning a new system, it was a great four years. It made me grow up fast. It made me learn the game faster than some guys who redshirt. I did well in school; in my mind (the focus) was football and school. Those were the two things I worked on. I believe every year we got better. I am satisfied how we did as a program at Ball State.”
Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh, who was born in Ohio and played at Miami University, told reporters he was impressed with Wenning and that offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak looked forward to working with him.
“Two things - really nice touch, and also, he has a strong arm,” Harbaugh said. “He is a big, strong guy. Those guys are all under siege right now from Coach Kubiak and [quarterbacks] Coach [Rick] Dennison to have their eyes and their feet where they’re supposed to be, and he is no different. But he has talent.”
“I think I have shown some good signs of potential,” Wenning says. “But at the same time I have to be more consistent. It is about keeping that steady medium. It is still relatively early. I am trying to grow and slow the game down.”
Wenning has also been able to pick the brains of quarterback Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to a title in the Super Bowl following the 2012 season.
“He has been good,” Wenning says of Flacco. “He is an exceptional player and a good person. He is someone I idolize and try to emulate on the field. I try to pick his brain. I feel our relationship will get closer and closer. I think the best advice I hear from a couple of guys is act like a professional.”
The former Cardinal play-caller is aiming to become the second pro athlete from the tiny town of Coldwater, Ohio. The other one is Craig Stammen, a veteran reliever for the Washington Nationals who played in college at Dayton. Stammen, standing in the Washington clubhouse June 3, remembers when the Ball State product threw a key touchdown as a high school junior in the state playoffs.
Wenning became the starting quarterback as a senior and Ball State was the only Division I program that offered him the opportunity to play quarterback at that level.
And thus he feels he has more to prove since he is not from a football powerhouse such as Ohio State or Michigan?
“I think a little bit. I kind of have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to that. When we put on a Ravens jersey or helmet we are on the same playing field,” he notes.
Wenning says he has kept in touch with Willie Snead (106 catches in 2013), his wide receiver at Ball State who was picked up as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns. He has also followed defensive end Jonathan Newsome, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Indianapolis Colts. Wenning and Newsome were the first Ball State players drafted since 2009. In his spare time Wenning tries to stay in contact with Ball State head coach Pete Lembo and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joey Lynch.
Before training camp begins in late July, Wenning will attend a symposium for NFL rookies and then work out in San Diego at Fitness Quest 10. He worked out there last year at a facility where NFL quarterbacks Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert and Alex Smith, among others, have trained. Wenning hopes to spend time at Ball State and in his hometown in Ohio before training camp begins for the Ravens.
What has been the biggest surprise of the pro game? “I don’t know it would be a surprise, but adjusting to the playbook and the terminology,” he says. “It is something I try to pick up and learn. It keeps piling up. I have to focus on that day in and day out. I try to make the game slow down.”
And because of that sightseeing in the Inner Harbor will have to wait.