Ramsay plowing ahead for Tar Heels
Sixth-year senior presses forward after numerous setbacks
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- No one would've blamed Devon Ramsay for calling it a career.
The North Carolina fullback lost part of a season to a shoulder injury, most of another to a later-overturned NCAA charge and nearly all of a third with a knee injury. Yet Ramsay is still here after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility, eager for one more shot with the Tar Heels even though he's unsure how he'll fit into a new coach's offense.
"I always think about how you've got to persevere through it," Ramsay said. "I think I have a pretty happy disposition. There's been a lot of hard things I've been through in my life, but I feel like I'm still smiling mostly a lot of the time."
Ramsay is still recovering after tearing two ligaments and damaging the meniscus in his left knee in last year's opener. He had started running by spring, but a setback forced a second surgery in May to remove scar tissue.
It's unclear if he'll be ready for camp or the Sept. 1 opener against Elon.
Things won't get easier after his return, either. The offense Larry Fedora brought from Southern Mississippi doesn't use a fullback in its base package.
"He's been dealt a lot of adversity and I think that's going to determine who Devon Ramsay is - how he deals with it and what he does to overcome it," Fedora said. "He's been working hard. He's done everything we've asked him to do and he's part of our program."
Ramsay is staying positive, saying it's pointless to resent all those bad breaks in a luckless career.
"This is one of those instances where you only get to live once," said his mother, Sharon Lee. "If you have the opportunity to do something you love, that's a blessing. He has the opportunity and obviously he loves it enough to put the effort in it to do this."
Ramsay, from Red Bank, N.J., learned to deal with tough times when he was about nine and doctors diagnosed his mother with a brain tumor. He stayed about two months with his father in Jamaica as Lee recovered.
At UNC, he redshirted in 2007 with a left-shoulder injury and played five games in 2008 before needing surgery on the same shoulder. He became a starter the next year and scored a touchdown against LSU in the 2010 opener, though the program was tangled in an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct at that point.
The probe appeared confined to 13 players sidelined against LSU before the school suddenly sat Ramsay five games into the season. By November, the NCAA had ruled him permanently ineligible for academic misconduct.
At issue was a three-page paper written two years earlier. Ramsay had emailed tutor Jennifer Wiley, who was tied to the probe, and asked her to review his work for grammar and syntax.
Ramsay estimated she added five sentences and didn't remember if he included some or all of the changes. Robert Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice who advised the family during the appeal, said Wiley suggested only minor revisions.
Orr said UNC's student attorney general decided not to submit Ramsay's case to the honor court. The school conferred with the NCAA, which declared him ineligible only to reverse itself in February 2011 and determine Ramsay hadn't committed a violation after the school provided additional information.
"He's an outstanding young man and he's going to be a great credit to the university in whatever professional or business career he has down the road," Orr said. "We didn't want to have some unfair, inaccurate blot on his reputation."
Yet Ramsay senses it's still there.
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"There's still like a stigma around it," Ramsay said. "People still associate me with this, which is unfair. It's just, it's not right. It kind of hurts, but you've got to roll with it."
The buzz of his return ended quickly last year. He started the opener against James Madison, but a defender fell into his left leg from behind as he blocked on a third-quarter run.
Just like that, Ramsay was out again.
"It feels like you're the horse and you've got the carrot right in front of you," Ramsay said. "You're just trying to get to it. You get closer and closer, and then they kind of just yank it away."
Ramsay said the sixth-year request was a chance to get back the nine games he lost in the NCAA probe. He'll earn a degree in public policy analysis and turn 24 in December, prompting plenty of teasing from younger teammates.
One recently posted a fake flyer on Facebook announcing a meet-the-players event featuring Ramsay and program great Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice as the "1949 team captains."
Yet "Old Man Rams" isn't feeling quite so ancient.
"You've just got to take it a step at a time," Ramsay said. "The next step will be to prove I can go out on the field, whether I have to do that on the scout team and then work up to get a package or something. It's like being a freshman all over again."