- Associated Press - Friday, July 30, 2010

WESTMINSTER, MD. (AP) - Donte’ Stallworth formally resumed his football career Friday, taking the field in pads for the first time since “the situation.”

In March 2009, Stallworth was driving in Florida when he hit 59-year-old crane operator Mario Reyes. The dock worker died, and three months later Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

He served 24 days in jail and was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the entire 2009 season.

“I won’t forget about what happened and I will never belittle the situation, because you can’t,” Stallworth said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But at the end of the day, when my name is written on a tombstone hopefully a long time from now, I would want to be remembered for something other than the situation.

“I would like to be remembered as a good person who did a lot for a lot of different people. A person who loved being around people, being sociable and helpful to everybody.”

The Baltimore Ravens wide receiver took a major step in that direction Friday.

He donned shoulder pads and took the field with teammates, something he hadn’t done since his final days with the Cleveland Browns in December 2008.

After practice, Stallworth spent nearly an hour signing autographs for children. And then, after he was ready to walk off the field, stopped and signed a few more.

The 29-year-old Stallworth knows he can’t change what happened while he was behind the wheel of his car that morning in Miami. But since the tragedy, Stallworth said he has reached an accord with the Reyes family, financially and spiritually.

He and the family agreed on a settlement to avoid a civil lawsuit and, through his lawyer, Stallworth pleaded for their forgiveness.

“I know they were very appreciative of the way I handled everything. Despite what everyone else says, that’s what matters to me the most,” Stallworth said. “You can’t bring back the situation that occurred, but at the same time it gives me a sense of peace knowing the family appreciates the way I handled everything afterward, and that they were on my side.”

By signing Stallworth as a free agent in February, the Ravens enhanced their receiving corps and provided him with the opportunity to restore an NFL career that hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He’s never had a 1,000-yard year and has scored only 32 touchdowns in seven seasons.

“Last year I was able to rest my body and able to work out and focus on certain aspects of my game that I wouldn’t be able to do if I would have been playing,” Stallworth said. “I just try to make the best out of every situation. That’s all I know how to do.”

In football, and in life.

“You can’t dwell on the past. You want to always try to move forward,” he said. “I think that with everything that I’ve been through, there’s really just a sense of serenity within myself, knowing that God forgives and that I can move forward and can try to continue my life as a I know it.”

Stallworth signed a $900,000, one-year contract with the Ravens _ a significant cut in pay from what he was to make with Cleveland. Stallworth received a seven-year, $35 million deal with the Browns in 2008 and received a $4.5 million bonus the night before the crash.

And now, he’s trying to make a living playing football again.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with murder in Atlanta in 2000 and ultimately pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He rebounded from his brush with the law to enjoy a stellar career, and Lewis is certain Stallworth can do it, too.

“I haven’t jumped into Donte’s world, but anytime you’ve gone through adversity you always have something to prove. All you can do is keep going forward. Don’t go backward,” Lewis said. “Looking at his heart from the outside in, he’s a man of humility. He’s a man that found himself in a tough time, but now he’s getting a second chance and I believe he’s someone who will capture that opportunity and really run with it.”

Stallworth will never be able to outrun his past, but he’s doing his best to deal with it.

“I think he understands that will always be part of any public discussion about Donte’ Stallworth. That kind of goes with the territory,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But I also think he wants to let people see who he really is. From a football standpoint, I think Donte’ wants to have kind of career that he always planned on having. He’s always been a very good player, but I think he believes he’s capable of being a really, really special player. He is very determined to prove that.”

Stallworth’s teammates plan to help make it happen.

“They’ve been extremely supportive. No one’s mentioned it. It’s in the past,” Stallworth said. “Right now it’s all about football.”