Ravens LB Ray Lewis has been an invaluable resource for many NFL players — and he’s not slowing down at age 33

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. One of the greatest middle linebackers in football history.

Now, the Ravens’ Ray Lewis can add another title to his illustrious career: The Godfather of the NFL.

While Lewis is known for slamming players to the ground, he is the first to pick them up off the field, becoming a confidant to many around the league.

From Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman to Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu to Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Lewis has mentored the NFL’s young superstars on the game, training regimen and, most importantly, life.

Lewis estimated that he talks, sends text messages to and counsels 15 to 20 players on some days.

“It’s a rush for me. It’s a high for me,” Lewis said. “My greatest legacy will not be about how hard I hit on the field but how many people I was able to bless.”

Lewis first runs into players at the Pro Bowl and at different social events. The meetings usually end with Lewis giving out his cell phone number.

When players find themselves with a problem, that’s when Lewis usually hears from them again.

It was just last training camp when disgruntled Bengals WR Chad Ocho Cinco phoned Lewis for advice.

Lewis’ message: Stop complaining and start appreciating life in the NFL.

“He’s my spiritual father when I’m having problems,” Ocho Cinco said earlier this season. “Ray has been there for me through everything. Ray is really the only reason I’ve somewhat shut up and calmed down and came back and refocused my energy on helping my team get to the playoffs and all my energy being positive.

“So, Ray is really the reason I’m back here happy, smiling and ready to go again.”

Lewis routinely will call players and tell them a favorite scripture passage. He’ll remind them to drink the right amount of water. He’ll even chat for a half-hour about dissecting the screen pass, like he did recently with 49ers LB Patrick Willis.

Before the Ravens’ Monday-night game at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, Lewis received a text message from Willis, his newest pupil, which read: “Show me what you got because you know I’ll be watching.”

“It turns into a real brotherhood from our conversation,” Lewis said.

But Lewis knows the connection extends beyond a brotherhood.

He has become a father figure to many players, much like Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson were for him years ago.

“When I was a child, that’s the thing I never had,” said Lewis, 33, who was raised by his mother. “As a man, that’s what you’re looking for — some real good advice from somebody they can trust.”

While Lewis seems to be giving so much — advice, time and energy — he insists that he receives more in return.

“What I get out of it is watching these guys grow,” he said. “That’s the reward for any parent. When you instill something in a kid and you get it put into fruition, you’re like, ‘Wow. He really listened.’ ”

Lewis has not only grabbed the attention of the players around the NFL. After recent injury-marred seasons, Lewis is playing like an elite linebacker again.

Run up the middle of the Ravens’ defense at your own risk. Draws don’t work, and neither do screens.

“It’s getting to the point with Ray where it’s almost ridiculous,” Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. “He’s a phenom. His contact and tackling is as crisp and as good as I can remember. He is still flying around and is always in the right spots. If I had to describe one thing about Ray that stands out, I couldn’t, because he is the total package.”

The Ravens are in a transition season with a new coach in John Harbaugh and a new quarterback in Joe Flacco.

The one constant has been the Ravens’ top-notch defense, whose determination comes from Lewis.

That was proven in Week Three, when the Ravens trailed the Browns 10-7.

On the third play of the third quarter, Lewis crushed Kellen Winslow over the middle, dislodging the ball from the Browns’ physical tight end. CB Chris McAlister plucked the ball from the air and ran 12 yards to the Cleveland 12-yard line, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in the Ravens’ 28-10 victory.

“He just knew he had to make a play, and that’s what leaders do,” Ravens ROLB Terrell Suggs said of the Lewis hit. “I mean, were y’all shocked?”

The biggest surprise is how Lewis can maintain this level of play.

After years of chasing down running backs, all of the NFL’s great middle linebackers eventually found something they themselves couldn’t elude — time.

Bears star Mike Singletary decided to retire after 12 seasons, before his play declined. Pittsburgh’s Jack Lambert walked away after 11 years because of a severe toe injury. And the Bears’ Dick Butkus stopped after nine seasons because of multiple knee injuries.

So, how can Lewis continue to remain in Pro Bowl form after 13 seasons?

His play on the field is dictated by his work off it.

His workouts are legendary. He still runs steep hills with a log on his back. He is constantly in the sauna and always is stretching, which helps to cut down on injuries.

At home, he has hired a personal chef, who cooks fish and vegetables. He keeps himself hydrated by drinking two gallons of water daily.

Then, at night, Lewis watches hours of film. He’ll pick up how a lineman puts his hand down on certain plays. He’ll note how a running back stands before a screen play.

These details help him predict where the ball is going before it is snapped.

“My greatest reward is in my sacrifice — how much film I watch,” Lewis said. “Some of them might want to run a screen or try to run in my area. I’m like, ‘Are you serious? You don’t think I watched that all week?’

“I would never want to be in my 20s again. I know too much right now.”

Colts QB Peyton Manning has a firsthand knowledge of Lewis’ film work.

“There’s many a time when I’ve heard Ray calling out our plays, and he’s been pretty accurate at times,” Manning said.

Lewis’ psychological game even extends to running backs. With some vicious head-on hits, he is putting fear into opposing runners. He ended Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall’s season in Week Four. It was the same back in 2000 when he train-wrecked Jerome Bettis, Corey Dillon and Eddie George.

“I was pretty intimidated by him, and I was on his team,” Ravens LOLB Jarret Johnson said.

Still, how long will Lewis remain on the team?

Lewis is scheduled to make $6.5 million in the final season of a seven-year, $50 million contract. That included a $19 million signing bonus (an NFL record at the time).

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this year that the team would actively pursue Lewis if he reaches free agency.

“If he becomes a free agent, I think the Ravens would probably outbid other teams,” Bisciotti said at the NFL meetings in March. “We know Ray’s value more than the other teams. We know the leadership he brings to the team. We know the commitment and the effort he gives to winning.”

This is the first time the Ravens have allowed Lewis to reach the final year of his contract.

There is a possibility that the Ravens could use the franchise tag on Lewis to keep him for another season. Lewis hopes it won’t come to that.

“If the season ends and I’m a totally free agent, for the first time in my life I will be totally free,” he said. “You know what that feels like for a man? It’s one thing to deal with a contract. It’s one thing to deal with life without a contract. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel to make my own decision.”