San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, a now six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro selection, has received his fair share of praise from writers, analysts and players alike.
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But getting a nod from Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who has promised to retire after the Ravens and 49ers square off in the Super Bowl, is among the highest praise the sixth-year linebacker out of Ole Miss could hope to get.
"[Willis] is one of the up-and-coming young stars who plays the game the right way," Lewis said at Tuesday's Super Bowl Media Day. "He plays the game with a certain passion, and plays with a certain discipline. Honestly, I really enjoy watching the young man play."
According to Lewis, the two have spoken often these past few years, a relationship that began during Willis' rookie season, according to the Baltimore veteran.
"I've been talking to Patrick since his rookie year, and I got into his story a little bit, why he wears 52 and all that," Lewis said. "It is actually humbling to know him as a man because when we started talking at Pro Bowls, he would always tell me all of these stories, and we would just have conversations."
Lewis sees himself as something of a mentor to Willis, making sure to dispense sage advice to the already well-decorated linebacker at some point in every conversation the two have.
"That's a young one, a young lion I talk to a lot," Lewis said. "My job is now, every time I call him, every time I tell him something, I always try to give him good advice, whether it's to stretch more or to do more to have the longevity that you are trying to have in this game."