By Mark Simon
The Yeomen are a patient bunch.
They would have to be at Oberlin, where the football team bearing that nickname (whose dictionary definition is "diligent and dependable workers") has spent nearly the last three seasons in football purgatory.
A 26-game losing streak would make pessimists out of a lot of people, but not first-year coach Jeff Ramsey.
There are reasons for this of course, most of which pertain to Ramsey's alma mater, University of California at Davis.
"That program won 12 games in the 1960s,'' said Ramsey, who played and coached there in the early '80s under recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee Jim Sochor. "Then they won 20 consecutive (Northern California Athletic Conference) titles, an all-division record. There are always programs you can look to and say that this can be done (here). Winning that first game will be the biggest hurdle. Once that happens, the kids will believe."
Things look grim at this point, with his team 0-7 and having been outscored 241-14 in its last four lopsided defeats, but Ramsey is big on making a fresh start. After coaching as an assistant at Sonoma State, Marietta and Illinois, Ramsey left football to become a manager for a wholesale book distributor, whose offices were located near the college.
Three years later the bug was back and the opening was practically next door after then-coach Pete Peterson resigned. Ramsey took the job. At his first team meeting in the spring, only 18 players showed up. By the time the season started, he had nearly twice as many. Initially, his quarterback moved to safety and his top linebacker switched to guard so that the team could fill out its lineup.
"I knew,'' said Ramsey about how he examined the football program, "that it had nowhere to go but up.''
Some opponents may chuckle when Ramsey's team takes the field, but the coach finds some of his players accomplishments fascinating under the circumstances. One starting defensive lineman comes from England and grew up on rugby. He's still learning a new sport. Another lineman, Kwesi Skinner, is legally blind in his right eye, but still has a tremendous passion for the sport.
"He knows the risks he's taking and he wants to play,'' Ramsey said. "A guy like that, you love to have him."
We won't get into the statistics and we won't delve into the 42-6 opening day loss to a Swarthmore program that prior to that game had the longest losing streak in the nation. Ramsey admits that his team isn't any good.
But he's here to promise that things will get better. One freshman, wide receiver Cody McCoy, was all-state small-school first team in Ohio. Another, linebacker Mike McClendon was a large-school honorable mention. Ramsey promises that any player he recruits will be a starter at the high school level. The facility, with three weight rooms and an indoor track, and the solid academic reputation of the college are appealing to most that come to the campus.
"I think with any program that there is the possibility for success,'' Ramsey said. "What determines the success is how hard the coaches work. If we wait for kids to come to us, it's not going to get done. People can blame anybody but that's not going to get it done. Our kids have a tough time believing- believing that they can make plays and that they can win. They've been beat up for so long, we're just trying to take it one down and one series at a time. My job is to make them better."