Cap­tains’ lead­er­ship not sec­ondary

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY

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.

Ev­ery day.

“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.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK

Se­nior de­fen­sive back Kevin Richard­son (right), one of Arkansas’ de­fen­sive cap­tains, talks with Ra­zor­backs tight ends coach Barry Lun­ney Jr. dur­ing prac­tice Fri­day.

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