State of the Hogs: Ramirez finds purpose on, off the field

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018
Arkansas safety Santos Ramirez motions prior to a snap during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Columbia, S.C.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas safety Santos Ramirez motions prior to a snap during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Columbia, S.C.

— If Santos Ramirez seems like a different person over the last 15 months, it's because he is.

The Arkansas free safety turned the corner in both his football and his life after diving into Rick Warren's self-help book, A Purpose Driven Life.

Ramirez stepped up in a leadership role as a captain as he became close to former defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. And, he's been given a leadership role from the start of the Chad Morris era, blossoming under new defensive coordinator John Chavis.

The senior from Shreveport, La., covered that and more during a comprehensive interview following final exams. He's poised to be the leader in summer workouts, coaching the newcomers in the secondary and being the go between for secondary coaches Ron Cooper and Mark Smith.

Ramirez said he was far from a leader as recently as two years ago. He was loose with his tackling and didn't take care of his business off the field. All of that came together when he became close to God and his coaches.

“Where I'm at now didn't come easy,” Ramirez said. “I've had my ups and downs. I was very inconsistent because I was very inconsistent outside of football.

“As I grew up I understood my purpose. Honestly, I do all of this for the glory of God. I play for Him. Just that mentality really helped me wake up and appreciate what I have. I realized what I have. It caused me to become a steward of my craft.”

Ramirez has honed his craft on and off the field.

“Craft does not just correlate to football,” he said. “It correlates to becoming a steward of my life. It comes down to everything I eat, sleep and makes me appreciate everything.

“That helps my mental expand. As that expanded my game expanded. It became easier. I was able to play with more passion without that pressure of being criticized and worry about opinions of others. As I got more from myself, my game improved and I became more of a leader because I found a consistency within my life. I could have never learned that without God.

“This happened last spring when I became more in tune with myself. It's when I started meeting with Coach (Paul) Rhoads every day after practice. I realized that I had control of my own destiny. I was blessed with tools that I can't allow to go to waste. With that mentality I wasn't afraid to go seek Coach Rhoads and his help.

“I put that pride down. I thought I could do everything on my own. I got to the point where I realized it wasn't just me. I started to get consistent.”

There was no doubt Ramirez was close to Rhoads, who was let go after last year's coaching change. Rhoads now is an assistant coach at UCLA.

“It hurt me to see him leave, but at the same time he helped me become more of a man,” Ramirez said. “What I learned was that when there are hard days back to back or tough days in the weight room, it was going to be fine because I was doing it for a purpose. I was living for a purpose, too.

“I read A Purpose Driven Life. It's helped me so much. I live life with no fear. I don't worry about anything, the Lord will take care of me.”

These days, Ramirez takes care of all of his business. He's looking forward to moving to another level under Chavis. He followed Chavis closely when he was at LSU and Ramirez was at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport.

“If you know the history of Coach Chavis, he probably has the most first rounders out of any coach,” Ramirez said. “He knows what talent looks like. He's coached a lot of great guys. I can name them from his LSU days. He had Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Matthieu and Eric Reed. I knew those guys while I was growing up in Louisiana and I knew Coach Chavis when he had those guys. There's also Morris Claiborne.”

So it was instant buy-in for Ramirez and the rest of the Arkansas defense when Chavis arrived.

“I saw the talent and then what he did with that talent,” Ramirez said. “He put guys into the (NFL) like it wasn't nothing. When you have a coach like that who has been around the SEC for a long time, who knows what talent looks like and he knows how to win, why wouldn't you not want to listen and buy into that coaches' system?

“I believe that if you just do what he says, there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to go to the NFL. Already off the top I already learned different things to get better from what Coach Chavis has given me and what Coach (Ron Cooper) has taught me. Those two guys are very prestigious. I got a lot of respect for Chief (Chavis).

“I want to give my everything for Chief and prove that we can be a great defense. I believe it on every level and that's defensive line, linebacker and secondary that we have talent. I want to be the veteran leader that those groups need. I'm blessed to have those coaches in our system because they will help me show my all-around game in this defense.”

The Chavis method includes blitzes, stunts and pressure. Ramirez said it was clear from the start that the Hogs would be bringing the heat more than in recent seasons.

“Chief does that,” Ramirez said. “He's going to dial up some pressure. There's no question about it. He's got the mentality that we love as defensive players.

“It's a savage mentality. I don't give a damn. I'm coming. It's kill or be killed.

“Since he's going to bring that pressure, it's perfect for some great defensive ends that we already had. Our D-line and linebackers are going to be very effective.”

It's only been a few months with new leadership, but Ramirez thinks Morris and Chavis both have worked hard to bond with their new players. It's a critical part in the installation of a new program.

“I do agree that you do have to have the chemistry and love to have a trust from a lot of guys,” Ramirez said. “Coach Mo (Morris) has been busy with recruiting, he came in and hit the ground running on that front. Even while working hard on recruiting, he made time for all his players. There were exit meetings with him individually, telling them what to work on as far as strengths and weaknesses.

“That speaks volumes. He does pay close attention, even though he's busy with a lot of different duties. That's tremendous from your coach. You may think he doesn't know you from a lick of nothing, but he does. That really brings respect. He'll ride for you. What I mean, when things are tough, he's not going to abandon ship with you. If he sees you going through a tough stretch, he'll help you through the process.

“Coach Mo really earned our respect because it's clear he is a coach really cares for us, he really cares about the University of Arkansas and he really cares about winning. Naturally, players are going to follow behind that coach.”

Chavis is available to mentor both on and off the field.

“When you are around Chief, you can be comfortable talking to him about anything,” Ramirez said. “On the field, that high energy comes out where he coaches you hard. But outside of football, he's very cool, calm and collected. He's got great charisma. He's a funny guy. You can joke around.

“On the field, he probably knew we were going to make mistakes this spring. He allowed us to play through them instead of making us robots when we mess up. Instead of yelling at us or cussing out, he's going to move forward.

“Now trust me, if a guy keeps messing up on the same thing, you know you won't be out there. What we have seen, he's the Chief because he's the head general, the top man. He commands the room when he has to do it.

“I will say he makes you understand that there is a way to do it and if you don't do it that way, you aren't going to play. First, he's going to give you the opportunity and that allows guys to go out there and play confidently.

“There is no time where you are allowed as a player or a coach to be content with the details. That's what makes him a great defensive coordinator. That's how he wins championships as a defensive coordinator. We are hungry for that.”

Make no mistake, Ramirez is a hungry leader as he heads into his senior season. It all goes along with finding your purpose.

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