NASHVILLE – Kalif Raymond was greatly outnumbered.
Last offseason, as the receiver/return man prepared for the 2019 season with the Titans, Raymond's large family oftentimes met him on practice fields outside of Atlanta so they could do their part to help him get ready for what he'd face in the fall.
It got crazy, which is sometimes what happens when you have four brothers, three sisters, and a whole bunch of other family members wanting to create mayhem for a good cause.
"Some of them would play DB, they'd work the JUGS machine, throw footballs, and they'd all try and tackle me," Raymond said with a smile. "My mom, she would be out there with one of those swimming pool noodles, and she would scream and yell and jump to distract me. I had sisters, brothers, everybody was guarding me, trying to distract me."
So, when Raymond had the most successful year in his long NFL journey last season with the Titans, he had plenty of folks to thank during, and after.
And plenty to be thankful for.
A 5-foot-8, 182-pounder who played at Holy Cross and has been waived at least nine times during a career that started in 2016 as an undrafted free agent of the Broncos, Raymond provided some big sparks in Tennessee in 2019. Raymond caught nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown – a 40-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Ryan Tannehill – in a regular season win over the Colts. In the playoffs, Raymond caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill in the team's win at Baltimore. Raymond also served as the team's primary return man in the second half of the year, and during the team's run to the AFC Championship Game as well.
During games last fall, Raymond used to look into the stands and see 20-25 family members holding their phones, recording him as he went back to field a kickoff. He'd flash back to those hot days in Georgia.
"One thing I learned is that I can't do this by myself," Raymond said. "I'm so appreciative of last year, because a lot of my siblings hadn't even seen me play until then. I always tell them: "You guys helped me get here."
Heading into 2020, Raymond is doing his part to make the team – and to make an even bigger impact for the Titans this fall.
After spending time with the Broncos, Jets, and Giants before joining the Titans, Raymond feels like he's in a good place.
Because of the family feel in Tennessee.
"What I have learned is I thrive better when I am surrounded by a team, in a team environment where a bunch of guys care about each other, and that's the way it is here," Raymond said. "It just brings a different level of competitiveness out of me, because I get to go fight with my guys. It brings out my best. I was on a team (last year) and it wasn't about, "I have to make the team." It was 'What can I do to help my team get better? And that in itself gave me confidence. And it makes me more excited about this season."
Raymond is off to a solid start in camp.
Over the first three days he's made a number of big catches, and he's shown off the speed that got him open for two of the team's biggest deep ball touchdowns a year ago.
Raymond busted it again this offseason, but because of COVID-19, the family gatherings on the football field were put on hold for health concerns.
So, he put in a lot of time himself, working on strengthening his grip, and his leg strength, to help him with balance and route running. He worked a lot on his conditioning.
This season, he hopes to build off what he did last season.
And he vowed to keep working to give himself the best chance possible.
He knows a lot of folks are rooting for him back home – and on the team.
"I work as hard as I do because I want to always know, no matter what happens, I gave it my all, that I left no stone unturned," Raymond said. "Whether it's study, get your body right, catching balls after practices … I want to always know I did everything possible to make myself better.
"I'm excited about what's ahead, and I am excited to be a part of this team. I am hungry. Every time I step on the field it is a blessing. Playing the game is the cherry on top, but the thing you remember is the guys to the left and right of you. And I want them to know they can trust me, and I trust them."
Titans Online looks back at wide receiver Kalif Raymond's 2019 season. (Photos: Donald Page)