Captains’ leadership not secondary
FAYETTEVILLE — Santos Ramirez was tired of his inconsistent play at safety through two seasons with the Arkansas Razorbacks, and he wanted to do something about it.
So Ramirez, saying he was “hungry for greatness,” asked defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads if he could watch practice tape with him this spring.
“I went up there after the first day of practice and I was like, ‘Coach Rhoads, I want to watch film with you. This is what I want to do, day in and day out. No matter what time you get in there, I’m in there with you. Every time you leave, I’m leaving when you leave,’ ” Ramirez said Friday after Day 2 of training camp for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Ramirez’s diligent approach to making improvements led to more consistency on the field, and his teammates took notice. The redshirt junior from Shreveport was voted as a defensive captain along with senior defensive back Kevin Richardson late in spring. Rhoads and the two captains visited with the media Friday evening.
“Santos stayed with me every night,” Rhoads said. “Every night he sat in there listening to me talk out loud about everybody on the field. He wasn’t sitting in there to individually be critiqued, he was in there to learn the defense.”
Ramirez was a backup safety to open spring. Now he and senior De’Andre Coley are on the first unit.
“He earned the No. 1 spot by his level of play, by doing things right and being productive,” Rhoads said. “Everybody saw that. Everybody saw a guy that had a great demeanor every day on the practice field. Everybody saw a guy that was chattering on the field, communication-wise, and talking to his teammates in the locker room and in the meeting room.
“Those are the things that — I mean you’re very aware of that. They don’t go away. And when it comes time to casting a vote, you want a true leader that’s going to be in front representing your football team and they knew that about him.”
Richardson, voted a captain after a season in which he played in only the season opener, said he’s watched Ramirez mature the past couple of years.
“I feel like he’s handling being a captain really well,” Richardson said. “Guys are really motivating him to come and be a vocal leader for the defense. He has a loud voice, and his play shows on the field.”
Ramirez ranks fifth in tackles among returning players with 43 in 2016, behind fellow safety Josh Liddell (63), cornerback Ryan Pulley (47), cornerback Henre Toliver (45) and linebacker Dwayne Eugene (44). The 6-2, 198-pounder had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles last season, but he didn’t impress himself.
“I was at a point where I was tired of being this inconsistent safety,” Ramirez said. “This person who can come out one game and have a big game and then have the worst game of my life. That’s not the guy that I am. That’s not the guy I knew I was capable of being.”
Ramirez knows there’s an extra burden on his shoulders after being elected a captain as a junior.
“I was humbled,” Ramirez said. “The fact that my peers and my coaches and everything saw me as a team captain even though I’ve still got one year left, it just shows they appreciate the growth I’ve made and everything.
“I just want to make sure I give the best effort that I can back to my teammates and my coaches.”
Ramirez said mental preparation was the missing piece from his game.
“I’ve got the physical tools and everything, but I was inconsistent on the field because I couldn’t play fast because I didn’t know the playbook like that,” he said. “I was out there sometimes guessing, and it caused me to think too much on that field. So I decided, in order to change my game, I needed to get more disciplined in my playbook and my eyes and everything else. And coach Rhoads really changed my game.”
Richardson, a 5- 1 1 , 185-pounder from Jacksonville, is listed as a senior; however, because of the torn pectoral muscle he suffered against Louisiana Tech in the opener last season, the former walk-on has a good shot at being awarded a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.
Richardson won the respect of his teammates by telling them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear, Rhoads said.
“In today’s age, where guys have a tendency to brotherin-law each other too much and take it easy on each other, they recognize somebody who is not afraid to speak,” Rhoads said. “And Kevin is not afraid to speak. When words come out of his mouth, they’re intelligent words.
“They’re words that make sense to the kids and elevate them. Anytime somebody elevates somebody else, they’re displaying leadership.”
Said Richardson: “I was always taught to be myself so you know I’m going to be blunt with you if there’s something wrong. If something needs to be addressed, I’m going to tell you about it.
“Coach B lets us speak to the team sometimes. He lets players speak. And sometimes I call people out if I feel there is something they should work on. That’s something I feel a leader should do. Sometimes it’s tough love when you’ve got to speak to somebody.”
Arkansas junior safety Santos Ramirez, shown during practice Friday, and senior defensive back Kevin Richardson were voted defensive team captains by the Razobacks during spring drills.
Senior defensive back Kevin Richardson (right), one of Arkansas’ defensive captains, talks with Razorbacks tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. during practice Friday.