Ramsey’s consistency powers remarkable season

For a young man who earned his dreams by doing everything the right way, everything was still going right.

Peyton Ramsey was Indiana’s returning starter at quarterback. Even if he had a ceremonial inside track in August’s three-way quarterback race, Ramsey took nothing for granted, still arriving to practices early, still finding time for extra throws late, still plopping down on a couch at odd hours to flip through his playbook.

He FaceTimed his family every Sunday, optimistic. Ramsey told them about a team that was a year more mature, more in-sync. The offense Kalen DeBoer brought over from Fresno State was clicking. It was shaping up to be a special year, and Ramsey was going to play a big part in it.

“He thought he played really well in camp,” said his older brother, Tanner, “and he thought it was his job.”

Tanner, along with his parents, Doug and Cherie, understood Peyton’s confidence. The brothers were teammates at Elder High. Doug was their coach. They knew Peyton was the first one in, last one out. He paired with the weight room’s strongest guys. He practically film-watched college football on TV, reading defenses and correctly predicting where the ball was headed on third down.

They saw a winner, a natural leader. But to those handicapping IU’s 2019 quarterback competition, fans and media alike, Ramsey had a lot to prove. His mistakes — 13 interceptions in 12 games as a redshirt sophomore — were too many. The zip on his ball, compared side-by-side with Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle, wasn’t all that inspiring.

IU missed a bowl game by one win, two years in a row, and a QB takes the lion’s share of the blame.

“That’s part of sports now. Everybody stinks and everybody can’t do this and can’t do that,” Doug Ramsey said. “It’s hard to hear people be critical of your son, especially when they don’t have any idea of what’s happening and what his talents really are.”

Peyton had done all he could. He blocked out the noise. He worked every day to be a Division I starting quarterback. He was one. And those Sunday chats with his mom, dad, and older brother were all smiles. Until fall camp closed and Doug Ramsey alone received a call from his son.

Peyton was quieter. For a lack of a better term, heartbroken.

For once, Ramsey’s work didn’t yield an obvious reward. The potential of Penix was just too great. In the age of the transfer portal, a proud quarterback’s next step would have been to seek an opportunity elsewhere.

But not Ramsey. To him, walking away didn’t feel right.

That decision would inevitably shape IU’s season — from his support of Penix, to stepping in after Penix’s numerous injuries, to claiming victory at Maryland, Nebraska and Purdue. Now the Hoosiers are aiming for more slices of history at the Gator Bowl, including the program’s first nine-win season since 1967 and the first bowl victory since ’91.

Staying was the right choice. Really, it was Ramsey’s only thought. But the results make the words Doug shared with his son on his worst day of fall camp so much truer.

“I told him, you’ve done things the right way, your entire life. Good things happen to people that do things the right way,” Doug Ramsey said. “For a couple of days, I don’t think that meant a whole lot to him. It was hard. But then he was like ‘You’re right,’ and he got back to work.”

• • •

In the Hoosier quarterback’s Twitter bio is the mantra of Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson.

“Nobody cares, work harder.”

It’s only natural for the stereotypical signal-caller — long ago sent down a path of hard work and self-sacrifice — to latch on to such a motto.

The lineage started with Ramsey’s father, himself a star high school quarterback. He became the coach of a Cincinnati football power, Elder, and his sons Tanner (Montana in full, named after Joe), Peyton (after Manning) and Drew (after Bledsoe) were raised in a football world. Doug’s boys were at his games, fetching water and footballs.

But the circumstances seem so one-sided, Doug has to clarify. No, he didn’t name each of them intending to raise quarterbacks. Those were just names Doug and Cherie liked. And no, the kids weren’t forced into football from birth. Peyton didn’t start playing until fifth grade.

There is a level-headedness to their football obsession. Doug, fiery on the sidelines, considers himself a foodie and grillmaster off of them. Tanner is a fan of Doug’s chili. Peyton would probably vote for the smoked wings.

“I always tried to put my kids first over football,” Doug said. “I never wanted them to be mad at me or think I was pushing them into something. I wanted them to love the game and the things they were doing.”

Being around his father’s program, though, set the stage for Peyton’s development. He found a friend in another coach’s son, Tommy Kraemer, a future protector on Elder’s offensive line and an eventual starter for Notre Dame. They grew up chucking footballs side by side, seeing who could throw the farthest. They were boring on weekends, hanging out and watching movies, because coaches’ kids couldn’t get in trouble.

They each found Elder athletes to pattern after. For Ramsey, it was the small but fearless quarterback in the No. 12 jersey, Rob Florian, who led the program to back-to-back state titles. Kraemer looked up to linemen like Digger Bujnoch and Eric Wood, the latter a future Buffalo Bill.

“We saw how guys took coaching and the right way to take it and learn from it,” Kraemer said. “We know coaches on the field can be a little crazy. But when they go home, like our dads, they are normal people. They care about you.”

Kraemer and Ramsey absorbed every critique. Ramsey, in particular, not only displayed the athletic gifts to match his football IQ but a calm, confident demeanor to lead others.

Doug Ramsey thinks his influence had something to do with that, but in the most self-deprecating way possible.

“I’ve learned things over the years from people, how not to do things, and maybe that’s something he learned from me,” Doug said. “You don’t have to scream as much.”

Doug’s son became a coach’s dream and a player’s player.

He scrambled for big gains. He hyped his teammates. From time to time, he’d reward his brother Tanner, the fullback, with a swing pass to the flat.

Ramsey always expressed appreciation for Kraemer and his fellow blockers, especially.

“He’s a guy that’s funny but also super intense,” Kraemer said. “He wants to win. You can see it in his eyes. If you didn’t get juiced being around him, you were playing the wrong sport.”

No matter the venue, that demeanor followed.

In basketball, he wasn’t hitting game-winners, but Elder coach Joe Schoenfeld unleashed Ramsey on point guards to make inbounds passes miserable, because he transitioned quickest from a made basket to press defense. In a split second, Ramsey could shift to leading, huddling teammates during breaks. On the defensive end, he always talked.

He was always on time, always ready. He was a multi-sport athlete who, despite the year-round demands of football, made nearly every workout and left no excuses for others.

“We still talk about him all the time. This is what it looks like, this is how it’s done,” Schoenfeld said. “His contributions did not end when he walked out the door.”

He was so steady, so consistent, Schoenfeld expressly remembers a team meal before a holiday tournament in Florida, because Ramsey wasn’t there.

Ramsey sent a message with one of his teammates: The Pinstripe Bowl between IU and Duke was down to the wire, and he’d be there soon.

“Not late very often,” Ramsey said, recalling that one, tiny slip, “but just that one night.”

• • •

The same passion Ramsey poured into Elder, he immediately invested in IU.

Ask any Hoosier to name the first player from the 2016 class to lead, and it’s Ramsey. Ask any of them for the quickest guy from drill to drill, and it’s Ramsey.

On game day, it’s always the two Peytons, the quarterback and his tight end, Peyton Hendershot, who are the first to take the field and toss a football around.

Ramsey was always the go-getter. Hendershot wasn’t always that type, but when he matured into one, Ramsey was the one he grabbed for extra passes before fall practices. Because Ramsey is that guy.

“It’s that stereotype for a quarterback,” Hendershot said. “He’s the first one in, last one out. He works the hardest. He does all the little things right.”

That was still the case when Penix was the starter. It marveled offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer when his backup completed 95 percent of his practice reps during the Rutgers week, a game Ramsey wasn’t guaranteed to play in.

He’s just so consistent. Every time senior linebacker Reakwon Jones arrives at Memorial Stadium for 6 a.m. treatments, his quarterback is the first non-trainer he sees, spread out on a couch, feet up, his playbook in his lap.

“He knows how to prepare, he knows how to lead the guys,” Jones said. “He’s a guy you can’t not like. He doesn’t say too much, he doesn’t come off any type of way … he’s just a cool guy, going about his business.”

So when circumstances changed, and the Hoosiers were Ramsey’s team again, he was entirely embraced.

By the end of the season, he was a captain.

Each reward has not only been cherished by Ramsey but his family. Tanner was at the Cincinnati-Tulsa game when he received a text from his mom, saying his younger brother had subbed in for an injured Penix at Maryland.

“I told my friends, you guys can stay here or come with me,” Tanner said.

He ended up at a bar, Ladder 19. A waitress flipped a solitary TV from the Cincy game to Hoosiers-Terrapins. Tanner was there just in time to see Peyton flick a 26-yard touchdown pass to Nick Westbrook at the end of the half.

At that point, Doug was in his Chevy Traverse, speeding down I-75 after dropping his youngest son, Drew, off at a friend’s house. Cherie tried to provide updates over the phone, but play-by-play isn’t her forte.

When the touchdown was thrown, Cherie mostly screamed.

“How bad I felt for him when he wasn’t named the starter, it was a 180 how good I felt for him then,” Doug said. “I think now people can see he’s actually a pretty good player.”

Ramsey has completed 69.2 percent of his passes in 2019, which would be an IU record. He has cut down on errors, throwing four interceptions to 13 TDs. On occasion, Ramsey has gone off-script, using his legs to pick up key first downs.

At Purdue, he helicoptered through the air on one scramble.

“Just watching him, I’ll be scared. No, Peyton, get down,” Jones said. “He got the soul of a linebacker, you know what I mean? He’ll go out there, he’ll take some hits, and he’ll deliver some hits, too.”

Doug and Tanner watched Peyton helicopter from more than a few rows back that day, up against a fence, behind the band. The high school coach prefers to sit away from the rest of the crowd, whenever possible, just so he won’t hear whines about players and coaches.

There would have been plenty of griping that afternoon, as IU stormed out to a 28-10, third-quarter lead, only to fall into a double-overtime battle. A microcosm of Ramsey’s career, really. Up and down. But always resilient.

On a third-and-long, Ramsey hit Hendershot on a tight end delay, setting up a QB sneak for the win. IU’s linemen picked up their quarterback, carrying him off the field.

Doug may have shed a tear.

“When the linemen do it, that’s something to me, because those are the guys, they are in there, fighting, doing whatever they can for the glory boy quarterback back there,” Doug said. “Those guys thought that much of him and what he had done that day.”

That day and every day. From the moment he locked eyes on the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl, through preseason quarterback competitions, through promotion and demotion.

He’s done almost everything right.

Now it’s on the Hoosiers to end this season the right way.

“Means a lot to be a part of it,” Ramsey said. “To be playing good football, winning games, that’s what it’s all about. It’s been such a fun ride, such a fun journey this year, and the plan is to keep it rolling and get a win in Florida.”


    1. Interesting that 2 old IU OC’s are playing in 2 big bowl games: Kevin Johns at Memphis v PSU and Kevin Wilson at OSU v Clemson.

  1. t – thanks for the news on Kevin Wilson….really knows how to run a offense (OSU offense is really good this year)….KW old school type coach (tough, hard-nose, stubborn, etc.)…..all I have to say is that I wish him the best of luck/success.

  2. Great article; great kid; great story. Peyton will go down as one of IU Football’s great players. But next fall Penix, if healthy should start. Penix just has too much talent! However, Peyton must get solid minutes in each and every game. We know that Penix will likely not be healthy for the full year. IU will need Peyton to be successful. 9 wins is the new standardized!

  3. I agree with you, BP. But if IU beats TN, I think there is a better-than 50% chance Ramsey will leave IU (either retire or transfer). Not sure he’s going to want to return and start the season as Penix’s back-up again, even if he believes he’ll be called on to take over again should Penix suffer another injury. If he’s healthy, Penix will be IU’s starter next season for three reasons: TA has said that he does not believe a player should lose his starting position because he got injured, TA can’t afford to have Penix transfer, and as you so correctly point out, Penix is simply more talented. Ramsey is smart, good and tough as nails, but he’s simply not as talented as Penix. Ramsey will probably have his degree in May and he’s not going to play in the NFL, so after the success he’s had this year, you could understand if he feels that he’s accomplished his mission, checked all the boxes and wants to start the next phase of his life (he has said that he wants to be a coach). Kind of like riding off into the sunset after having made a huge contribution to IU FB’s success. Why risk injury or experiencing such a huge anti-climax by returning to be a back-up and waiting for the other guy to get hurt?

    1. I respectfully disagree on Peyton transferring, he has proved that he is a Hoosier to the bone, or hanging up his cleats, he has IU records to set. I agree on his career ambition to be s college Head Coach. One more year at IU as a player, then as a graduate assistant, then as an assistant position coach elsewhere to earn his stripes. Then back to IU as the OC. We will never forget him!

  4. BeatPurdue good analysis on next season and the QB position. Po I agree with your assessment of Ramey’s priorities and choices after May. We can never know what really drives people so he may decide to come back for one more season. Another player we can’t really know about is Cronk, does he come back one more year or choose to take a payday no matter what round he would be drafted.

  5. BP, I’m not predicting Ramsey will leave, I’m saying there is a significant possibility. I hope you’re right and that he does come back, but I don’t think he cares about setting records. It would be good for IU to have his experience and leadership on this team. But I won’t be surprised or upset if he departs. He has earned the right to do whatever he believes is in his best interest. And I wonder if having his third OC in three years will influence his decision? You could say that learning from yet another coach could be valuable to a young man who wants to be a coach, or you could see how adjusting again could be a turnoff. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do. But regardless of what he chooses, he has earned a special place in the memory of all Hoosier FB fans.

  6. Never say never, but there’s almost no chance Ramsey transfers. There would have to be a dramatic change for that to happen.

  7. Great article about a terrific young man who has had a great season. I would be very surprised if he does not graduate and transfer. Head Coach has passed over him twice this year for Penix – who has proven nothing but potential. Ramsey has given everything asked and then some. Now that the OC is leaving, why come back to be benched a third time for injury prone Penix ? Go Hoosiers – beat TN and wishing Mr. Ramsey all the best on whatever your choice is – you deserve it.

Comments are closed.