OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — On game day, Torrey Smith is a whirlwind of dreadlocks, speed and big-play catches.
None of this provides a hint of the hurdles he had to overcome to become the deep threat the Baltimore Ravens needed to make it to the Super Bowl.
After helping his single mother raise six other children, a chore that included working after school as a teenager, Smith accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland. He played three seasons, scoring 22 touchdowns — including three on kickoff returns — before throwing his name into the mix for the 2011 NFL draft.
Smith was selected in the second round by Baltimore, and as rookie he quickly displayed the ability to get downfield although his inexperience resulted in several costly dropped passes.
Early this season, Smith ran sharper patterns and rarely let a ball slip through his fingers. But tragedy struck less than 24 hours before the Ravens faced New England on Sept. 23: Smith's younger brother, Tevin Jones, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Virginia.
Smith left the team to join his family, then returned to catch six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns to help Baltimore earn a 31-30 victory.
"Incredible," teammate Jacoby Jones said last week. "I'm not sure many people could perform under those circumstances, let alone play so well. I really do admire him for that."
Smith finished the regular season with eight TD catches and ranked fourth in the NFL with 17.4 yards per reception. In the second round of the playoffs, he twice burned standout cornerback Champ Bailey for long scores in the Ravens' 38-35 playoff win over top-seeded Denver. Smith then contributed four catches for 69 yards as Baltimore defeated New England 28-13 to advance to a Super Bowl showdown with San Francisco this Sunday.
Smith revealed after the AFC title game that several Patriots fans took to insulting him on Twitter.
"Played a lot of games since my brothers death and I never received as many rude tweets after a win than Sunday...yet NE fans cry about class," he tweeted.
Asked in New England how the Ravens emerged as conference champions despite being decided underdogs, Smith replied, "It's who we are. That's what our city is, a tough city. You get knocked down, you've got to get back up. That's how life is. You just can't lay down and roll over. You've got to continue to fight."
And so it is with Smith.
"We talk about the cauldron of competition and the fire that refines us. To me, Torrey is the perfect example of how the right kind of person is made of the right kind of stuff," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's one of those rare players where there is no agenda. He just wants to know what's expected of him, so he can do the best he possibly can. He's not trying to fool you, he's not trying to impress you. He's just trying to be himself."