October 9, 2012

HSU freshman makes immediate impact

More news about: Hardin-Simmons
Hardin-Simmons freshman receiver and return specialist Jessie Ramos has already brought two kicks to the end zone for touchdowns.
Photo courtesy of William McCorkle

The impact of a freshman on a college football team is always an exciting thing for fans to follow. Generally, if your teams are good, the upperclassmen carry the load and lead the program to victories. But, when the fresh meat comes in and can immediately be an accessory to the team leaders, it can create a buzz.

The challenge for college recruiters is determining how quickly a freshman can make an impact, whether it be immediate or a process of developing over a couple of seasons. Another obstacle is recruiting senior players from extremely small high schools. While a player may shine head and shoulders above the rest in meager competition, it makes it hard to see whether that player would be formidable at the college ranks.

Hardin-Simmons freshman receiver and kick returner Jessie Ramos came from Stamford High School in Texas, which is classified in the UIL as a 1A school. Ramos said his senior year the school had 200 kids from grades 9 through 12. The four-sport athlete made it look easy on the football field, but even Ramos admitted that he knew it would be significantly different at the next level.

“When you are playing other schools the same size as you and playing against kids in 1A, there are usually only one or two [high-caliber] athletes on the field at one time,” Ramos said. “So in high school I just had to outrun and out-athlete the others.”

Ramos said he was able to use his speed and often was able to reverse field and use cut backs to make long receptions and returns. But, at the college level, the number of good athletes on the field increases dramatically beckoning skill and technique over raw athleticism.

So, how did HSU head coach Jesse Burleson know that Ramos’ game would translate? The answer was simple.

“With him it just came down to one factor: it was speed,” said the second-year head coach. “Every time I saw him play, he was by far the fastest guy on the field. There was no comparison, and then I saw him compete in track and run against people all over the state. He also just had a knack for making big plays. He pretty much took the state semi-final game over himself.”

Ramos’ Stamford teams advanced to the state championship game in football, he played basketball, went to the state championship game in baseball and was a part of the 800-meter relay team that won state in track.

He chose Hardin-Simmons over Angelo State (Division II) and Mary Hardin-Baylor. Stamford is just 35 miles north of Abilene where HSU is located, and it gave him an opportunity to continue playing in front of his parents and two brothers.

In the recruiting process, Ramos asked Burleson if he had a chance to return kicks immediately at the college level. Burleson said that the incoming freshman had just as good a chance as anybody. Ramos responded by saying he was glad, but didn’t think he was very good at it -- he hadn’t returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown in his high school career. Burleson begged to differ.

When Hardin-Simmons played host to Willamette to start the season, Ramos in his first college game, proved himself wrong and his coach right.

Ramos took a kick back 96 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter after the Cowboys had fallen down 14-0.

“I can’t explain it; it was really an amazing feeling,” Ramos said. “The first return I was going in and just blocking, but I wanted the ball the next time. I was pretty nervous because it was my first college game. But the second kickoff, the ball came to me, I caught it and started running upfield and the seam was there and it was perfect. All I did was find the seam and go run. The blockers did the job.”

HSU ended up falling to Willamette that day 58-34, but later Sept. 29 on a rainy and muddy night at the natural-grass surfaced Shelton Stadium, Ramos took another one back against Mississippi College to start the second half. This one was from 100 yards out.

“Both of those returns really sparked us, especially the one at Mississippi College,” said Burleson. “We were leading 7-0 at halftime and it really blew the game open for us. Against Willamette we had just given up a long touchdown, and then he takes it the distance.”

The Cowboys went on to defeat Mississippi College 31-0. Ramos has also added six receptions for 76 yards this season at receiver including a 41-yard touchdown grab against Texas College Sept. 15.

Burleson said the sky is the limit for Ramos in his coming years at both receiver and as a special teams player. He compared him to the likes of Kirk Rogers who was an All-American for HSU in the late 1990s and went on to have an NFL stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“It’s pretty exciting very honestly to know that we have him for four years. He reminds me of Kirk Rogers,” Burleson said. “Now what he does with his ability and what we’re able to do to develop it remains to be seen, but I could easily see him developing into an All-American receiver and returner.”

The Cowboys dropped two games to start the season against Willamette and top 5 Linfield, but HSU is on the upswing headed into the second half of the season. The Cowboys are on a three-game win streak with five American Southwest Conference titles remaining.

HSU plays host to East Texas Baptist on Saturday with nationally ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (10/20) and Louisiana College (11/10) still on the schedule. The Cowboys will also have to contend with the surprise Lobos of Sul Ross State (10/27) and the improving Texas Lutheran (11/3) squad.

“No matter what we do, we’re going to play as hard as we can; we want to be the hardest playing team in the nation,” said Ramos. “We still realize we have a chance at a conference title, we’re on a 3-game winning streak and hopefully peaking at the right time.”

Burleson agreed with his freshman.

“We have to understand that everything we’re doing is a process. It’s a division of what we’re doing every week as individuals, as a unit and as a team we want to try to play our best game of the year in all three phases,” said Burleson.

If those three phases include a special teams unit with a returner that averages 49.8 yards per return and doesn’t even consider himself good, the Cowboys could be in good shape for the remainder of the season.

Cain is able

Preseason first-team All-America placekicker Allen Cain followed up a 19-point performance (five for five field goals, four for four extra points) Sept. 21 with 14 points (four for four field goals, two for two extra points) against East Texas Baptist. Saturday again No. 2-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor, it didn’t look like Cain would get much of a chance to show what he could do; UMHB led TLU 42-7 in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs were able to piece some scoring drives together late against the Cru’s reserves. With the score 49-21 with just over two minutes to play, TLU appeared to have a drive halted at the UMHB 41-yard line, but on fourth down and 13, head coach Danny Padron sent his senior kicker out, and he delivered the second-longest field goal in ASC history nailing the kick from 59 yards out.

In his four-year career, Cain is four for six from field goals of 50 yards out; he’s also hit from 53 this year. He’s turned the head of NFL scouts and has been visited over the last two seasons by about half of the league’s team scouts.

Cain said that he told Padron on Saturday that he could make the 59-yarder, and he went out asked God to let him make the field goal for his team. But when he kicked it he didn’t feel like he gave it enough leg.

“I didn’t make solid contact with it, but when I looked up the refs put their arms up, and I felt this overwhelming joy come over me.”

Lobos bounce back

Many college men like to partake in latest versions of Electronic Arts’ football video games NCAA Football and Madden NFL Football in the dorm rooms. Well, if they were in Clinton, Miss., on Saturday they didn’t need a controller to witness the types of results that those video games produce. Sul Ross State, the surprise team of the ASC, picked up its first league victory with a 75-42 win over Mississippi College. Leading 49-21 at half, the Lobos did allow 21 third-quarter points from the Choctaws. In order to compete with Texas Lutheran, Louisiana College and Hardin-Simmons over the next three weeks, the defense will need to tighten. Although it’s hard to argue that Sul Ross wouldn’t be the favorite in a shootout.

Through five games, Sul Ross is averaging 48.8 points per contest for a total of 244 points. The Lobos scored 225 points in all of 2011.

Senior transfer quarterback A.J. Springer shined again with 437 passing yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions and 77 yards rushing, but Dominique Carson continues to prove that he may be one of the more explosive players in the nation with 214 yards rushing on 27 carries and 154 yards receiving on five catches while tallying four trips across the goal line.

The rest of the ASC

East Texas Baptist played No. 21 Louisiana College tough, but the Wildcats took a 29-17 win. LC is 4-1 through the first five games of the season; if the Wildcats are able to duplicate that record in the final five games, they might be on their way to a playoff berth for the first time -- and be able to grab that elusive eighth win after four consecutive 7-3 finishes from 2008-11.

Howard Payne is in trouble after a 56-10 loss to Hardin-Simmons on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets’ best opportunity at a victory this season will come in the next two weeks facing Mississippi College and East Texas Baptist respectively -- all three teams began ASC play with an 0-2 record.

Independents

Huntingdon College kept its playoff hopes alive by handing Millsaps its only loss of the season Saturday in convincing fashion. Quarterback Neal Posey threw two touchdown passes, but running back Trevor Manuel stole the show with two halfback passes for touchdowns while adding two touchdowns on the ground to accompany 98 yards rushing. With three games to spare, the most important game for the Hawks’ playoff hopes comes Oct. 27 against Wesley; with just a nine-game schedule if Huntingdon loses that game and wins its final two games of the season, it will likely be a team on the bubble.

Austin’s first year as an independent has been tough with a 1-5 start, but the Roos might be able to take advantage of a first-year program when they play host to NAIA Wayland Baptist on Saturday. Trinity returns to action looking for a better second half of the season, however, things aren’t easy to start that second half as the Tigers will travel to face No. 16-ranked Birmingham-Southern on Saturday. A win could put Trinity back on the right track for a possible playoff run, but a loss will undoubtedly leave them on the outside looking in.

In the SAA

Birmingham-Southern fell to Wesley 26-17 on the road after leading 10-0 through the first quarter. However, the Panthers turned the ball over three times and had the ball for just 23:10 in their chance to play spoiler over the No. 6-ranked Wolverines. BSC is still on the right track if it can pull out a victory at home against Trinity on Saturday.

Rhodes picked up a win against independent Austin College heading into Saturday’s game with Macalester, while Centre goes idle after a conference win over Sewanee. Sewanee and Millsaps will square off Saturday in the SAA’s only intraconference game this week.

Tweet of the week

392 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns isn’t all fun and games.

“After a hard weekend time to get back right http://instagr.am/p/QiMzxGNufH/” -- @MrCarson8 -- Sul Ross running back Dominique Carson

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Justin Goldberg

Justin Goldberg is a newspaper copy editor and freelance writer in southwest Virginia. Originally from New York, he played Division III basketball in that colder region of the country, but moved to Virginia in 2008 to earn his M.F.A. in creative writing. He has written for multiple publications, including C-VILLE Weekly and The Roanoke Times. He is happy to join D3football.com for his first season as the Around the South columnist.
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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