Anthony Averett’s milky white teeth peeked out into the glistening August sun, his smile seeming as wide as the football field that sat in the distance, as he talked about his motivation to get to the NFL.
“I always fell in love with the game,” the Ravens cornerback said Tuesday after an Eagles-Ravens joint practice. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do and buy my mother a house [in South Jersey], so I’m living the dream.”
The preseason game Thursday night between the Ravens and Eagles — the Ravens won, 26-15 — signaled the return of Averett to his native Woodbury area. It also meant that he would be lined up across from his former South Jersey rival, Eagles running back Corey Clement.
Off the field, however, the two are inseparable and more alike than different. Both are motivated to provide a better life for their families.
“My dawg,” Clement said, smiling as he talked about Averett after the game. “I circled this on the calendar. … It seems as if I’m 0-3 [against Averett] since we just lost today, so hopefully, we get the win next time we see him.”
Averett and Clement walked onto to the Pop Warner football field as third graders eager to get another taste of the game they both began playing a few years earlier. They had been born just 28 days apart.
Clement, the elder of the 24-year-olds, said he heard Averett was the fastest guy in South Jersey before that practice. It was Clement’s mission that day to make sure Averett knew there was a new sprint king of South Jersey.
“I remember him scoring touchdowns,” Averett said. “Who’s this No. 6 guy? Who is this Corey Clement?”
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Clement said once the helmet and pads slid off that day, the two returned to Averett’s house for pizza and a sleepover and a bond that still stands more than a decade and a half later.
"You know how little kids do, play games until it was like 5 in the morning and it's really a tight relationship, " Clement said. "It's all cool."
The love for the game that brought them together has kept them pushing one another to their goal of having successful NFL careers, even though each has faced his share of obstacles.
Clement went undrafted a year before Averett, who had redshirted one year at Alabama, was drafted in the fourth round by the Ravens. One of the first people to congratulate him was Clement.
Clement sprained his knee last year, and one of the first people to reach out to him was Averett, who later reminded Clement that he needed to be ready for the Eagles-Ravens joint practices.
“Definitely he isn’t a selfish person. He’s always worrying about somebody other than himself,” Clement said. “I appreciate him a lot for even checking in on me because most people would just say he’ll be good when the time comes. But he was pinpoint every other week, ‘You good, you going to be ready, because you know we have joint practice.' ”
Averett added that he was excited when he saw an Instagram post of Clement running on a treadmill earlier this year. “Getting his knee back right. It’s part of the game. It’s a blessing.”
Although the two went to rival high schools, their roots in South Jersey have bonded them by in the NFL. In the pros, it’s South Jersey against everyone, but when they return home, it’s back to representing Glassboro for Clement and Woodbury for Averett.
On a cold December evening in 2012, Averett and Woodbury defeated Clement and Glassboro, 14-13. Al Mailahn, Woodbury’s defensive coordinator at the time, remembers the game well.
“Him and Corey both played an outstanding game that day, and with being best friends all through childhood, they didn’t hold anything back, and they went at it,” Mailahn said.
Now retired, Mailahn said Averett was one of the best athletes he’s ever coached, adding that Clement’s speed couldn’t be underestimated.
“He listened and he was probably one of the nicest young men I’ve ever coached in 39 years,” Mailahn said of Averett.
Since that epic night in 2012, the two have played each other only once, and that didn’t much count. Averett’s Alabama faced Clement’s Wisconsin on Sept. 5, 2015, and while Clement was the Badgers’ lead ballcarrier that game, Averett left early because of an elbow injury.
“It’s crazy how we were in two difference conferences but we ended up playing each other,” Averett said. “It’s a crazy story. It’s like a movie.”
Just like the summer and fall days in South Jersey, the camaraderie between the two returned to the football field this week during the joint practices.
Clement spent most of his time taking first-team reps over the two-day, two-hour practices and running through the Ravens’ first- and second-team secondaries. On many of those plays, Averett ping-ponged across the field in the 90-degree heat, not slowing down until he was subbed out.
Thursday, however, the spotlight was bright on Clement as he returned to top form playing in his first game since his knee sprain last December.
“It was fun,” Clement said. “ … Just getting the feel back into the game. It was awesome.”
Thursday’s game will be meaningless in the long run, but for Averett and Clement, it will serve as a reminder of the twists and turns of their course to get to this point.