In a world that craves validation, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey “enjoys being doubted.” He would rather hear boos at an away game than hear fans cheer his name. If there was ever something to doubt, building a haven for the mind would be it. But that’s exactly what Humphrey did for himself and his family.
Spending nine months of the year on a football field, during the off season there’s “something about the water” for Humphrey. “Water for me is something that's just peaceful to look at; get in a canoe, paddle in the water. Fish. There's so much to do out here, it's hard to think about football.” For this intensely competitive NFL athlete, water becomes balance, a poetic neutralizer between his sport and life in general.
Known for his elite ability to get the ball off players—from pass breakups and interceptions to fumble recoveries—on the field Humphrey is locked in. Perfecting his craft down to a science as if on autopilot, he disrupts the ball and is not only referred to by his peers as a tremendous competitor but as a prolific corner. Playing from whistle to whistle every game, Humphrey is recognized by the NFL as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league, ranked among the top 10 in 2022. But if the football field is Humphrey’s science, the off season is his art.
It started with a blank canvas. Accustomed to quick thinking, Humphrey purchased 500 acres of land the same day he saw it. Located in a remote area of his native Alabama home state, vision by vision and project by project, he began creating his dream home with the help of friends and family. This is now where Humphrey lives during the offseason and where his family spends much of their time.
After purchasing the land, Humphrey and his family tore down the partially built house that was currently on the property, vandalized by BB guns and windstorms, and started building their new home from scratch. But when Humphrey returned to the ranch after the football season, he saw that the picture he had painted in his mind wasn’t realized. “I came back from the season, walked into the house, which was nearly complete, and thought, ‘Oh man, this is not how I thought it was going to look at all.’” After discussing it with his grandmother, she encouraged him to tear it down and start new, since it wasn’t what he wanted. That was the last conversation he had with her before she passed. “So, we tore it down and built it back up. Started over. I remember grabbing squares of sod and putting it down piece by piece by piece. Everybody took turns. We were all so tired. But my family’s done most of the work here, especially my dad.” They worked through the night using a side-by-side to generate light, camped outdoors, dodged a bobcat, and brick by brick, built Humphrey’s vision.
They built serenity, and when he looks at the house today, he thinks of his late grandmother. One of the main lakes, Woodbine Pier, which he named after the street he grew up on, “gives me the most peace. I just walk outside, look at the water, and sit there.” Growing up, Marlon and his siblings would fish as guests at a lake roughly 15 miles from his new property. “The property owner used to let us get on the little boat he had with the trolling motor, and we would make sure we threw away the trash and locked everything up. We had to be really careful how we did things.” Now Humphrey owns 11 lakes, all affectionately named after childhood memories and his family, where they can fish freely on their own terms, and where he invites others, including children, who have never caught a fish to come and spend their time on the water.
Humphrey’s community upbringing made signing the second deal with the Ravens a serious moment for him. “That was a cool moment because people only see one person sign the deal, but they don’t see all the people that helped that person get there. That's a neat thing with anybody that has a major accomplishment: it's never a one man show. It's coaches, teachers, family. So many things need to go your way, but there has always got to be somebody in your corner. For me that was my dad, siblings, and my whole family.”
As carefree as he is, for Humphrey it's about balance. “Too much football doesn’t work for me. Sometimes you got to let the mind breathe.” A lesson Humphrey learned from attending a health retreat to recover the mind and body from his 2022 season injury. “It was the quietest my mind has ever gotten. I took a breathing class, and it was total relaxation and autonomous thinking. A lot of times, that’s achieved when you are away from your job. Now, it has been being out here in the off season. It sets my mind at ease and helps me get ready for the season.”
While Baltimore is his home team, “Alabama is home.” During the season, Humphrey plays with acceleration and passion as a fierce NFL athlete, making a living by disrupting the ball. But during the off season, he flows like water.