Ramos Kicking Like More Than Just a Placeholder

  • October 11, 2018

BY JAY GREENBERG

From the fans who root for the placekicker, the coaches who trust him and teammates whose hard work can come down to him, it’s inevitably about the hits or misses.

But as he trots onto the field, the worst thing a kicker can think about is how awful it would be to fail; the next-worst being dreaming about the glory in succeeding.  

“The thing you focus on mostly is the contact with the ball and the finish,” says Nico Ramos. “Try to keep it simple.

“If you over-think things, your form may be a little off and your finish may not be as straight as you want it to be.”

That’s more than ironic, actually hilarious. Imagine a Princeton man having to tell himself not to think, when thinking is what this whole place is about. At the top undergraduate university in the country, horizons are supposed to expand. And Ramos succeeds only if he is the narrowest-thinking guy on campus, at least until he gets his A in the form of hands over the heads of the striped shirts and goes back to the classroom.

Basically, there are two kinds of people in the world. 1) Those who love to be on the spot. 2) Those who would rather by anywhere else. Venture to say, the former have a significant leg up on this placekicking stuff.

Growing up a Patriots fan in South Florida, as did Ramos, takes a lot of nerve in itself, not that his rooting interest was contrarian. “My step father is from New England,” he explains. So, naturally, the NFL kicker Ramos has most watched has been Stephen Gostkowski. But just about any guy who can kick a ball between two posts 50-60 yards away, with a split second to get it away will do fine for example-setting purposes.

“Every time I watch an NFL game, regardless of who is playing I do try to watch the mechanics of the kicker and find those little cues that might help me,” said Ramos. “Regardless of length, PAT or field goal, their approach is the same, pivotal to replicating the same kick over and over again, regardless of what yard line it is from.”

Princeton’s kicking game is back where it should be after a bizarre 2017. In an email to the football gods, we asked why they devastated the front seven on defense and took out two kickers and seriously compromised a third while leaving the offense virtually healthy. There was no response.

It is a contact sport–hence linebackers and linemen going down. But kickers usually don’t get anything injured but their feelings. “It’s pretty rare to have three kickers hurt,” said Ramos “And it was very frustrating.”  

Ramos was injured the second day of camp, before his first day of class at Princeton, and was close to being ready when the season ended. Punter Steven Mejia, junior heir to the job Tyler Roth held for four seasons, didn’t get on the field until week nine, and when freshman Antonio Ferrer struggled, quarterback Chad Kanoff had to do the job.

As a freshman, Tavish Rice had made six field goals and 44 of 46 extra points. As a sophomore in 2017, he soldiered on despite an injury that eventually would need an off-season procedure. Kicking hurt and without benefit of practice time, Rice lost an average of about 15 average yards on kickoffs, missed five of 46 PATs, and a 31-yarder that would have sent Princeton, just ripped off by a bad call of an apparent winning touchdown catch by Stephen Carlson, at least into overtime.

Bob Surace called the Tigers 100th out 100 teams in performance of the punting game. A season later, you need some punts to demonstrate you are getting better at them. Triplett’s extraordinary gift of lift is apparent in practice but there has been a sample size of just five punts in four games–plus two more pooches from John Lovett.

While Rice is being used only on kickoffs – and has caused 29 touchbacks out of 36–Ramos, with no muss and no fuss, keeps banging the chip shots–five field goals and 25 of 26 PATs-through. The one failure was caused by a blocking breakdown. There also was drop by the holder, freshman George Triplett, that does not count as an attempt in the stats.

This MO began as an attempt to not wear out Rice with too much too soon. But as Ramos wears out officials raising both arms, there is no reason to change what is working. Rice has the stronger leg–even Ramos concedes that–so if a game should come down to a 50-yard shot, Rice might be guy to take it. In the meantime, the junior is not being taxed and Ramos isn’t taxing anyone’s patience, quite the opposite.

Twice in the last two weeks, Princeton, averaging 8.6 yards per play, was fourth-and-two inside the five in the final 30 seconds of the half and Surace sent out Ramos. Asked about his decisions on specific kick-or-go situations, Surace always points to analytical data from a company that lays out the percentage of success and how it boosts the odds in favor of victory. But there is no trust in those numbers without trust in the field goal kicker.

The coach also showed faith in Rice, aged 20, to handle this like the adult he almost is. “He is definitely a leader in the unit,” says Ramos, “He has been supportive of me from day one.  

“He and I compete with each other every day of practice. We have benefitted from that.”

As the kickers are called upon only for a few special team segments of practice, they have some serious hang time together down by the end zone. Internal competition is the lifeblood of a good team; competitive morale, hardly is advanced if the coach looks down one day and sees these specialists kicking one another in the butt. On the contrary, camaraderie builds among the guys manning the loneliest spots on a football team. Hence the decision to make Triplett the holder for Ramos, as Roth was for Rice during his freshman year.

Besides Ramos and Ferrer have had a head start on the buddy system since Grade Six at the Everglades School in Miami. They were rivals as well as friends through high school. Could have fooled Jim Salgado, then the special teams coach and the recruiter for the state of Florida, when Ramos and Ferrer showed up at Princeton football camps on different days. As he endorsed the recruitment of both to Surace, Salgado forgot they were from the same school.

“We both wanted to come here individually; not because of each other,” said Ramos. “It just happened that it worked the best for us. We are together a lot.”

Just because a kicker has to be alone with his thoughts as he awaits the snap, doesn’t mean he is the loneliest guy on campus.

TIGER TAILS

Princeton has won five of the last six against (1-3) Brown, Saturday’s 1 pm. Alumni Day opponent on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium and is 56-28 all-time. Last two Tiger wins were by 31-7 (2016) and 53-0 (2017)… Tigers are ranked 21st in the latest FCS Coach’s Poll and lead in total offense (607.2 yards per game) and scoring offense (50.3 points per game)… Princeton also leads the FCS in fewest penalties per game (2.2) and penalty yards per game (22)… Contest, like all remaining on the schedule, is available via subscription to ESPN+… WPRB (103.5) will have the game on radio as usual (Patrick McCarthy and Matt Rea).

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