Calling Audibles Part VIII: Face Time

This Thanksgiving, as every Thanksgiving we’ve spent at UNC, we were blessed to have some of the players at our Thanksgiving table.  Devon Ramsay is one of them.  

If you don’t know Devon’s story and you are a Tar Heel fan or any fan of college football, you should.  He is a fine young man—someone to be proud of, someone to root for, and someone for whom UNC should be thankful.  For John and me, Devon is someone who inspires us with his resiliency, his perseverance, and his desire to keep working toward his dreams.  And for John and me, Devon is the face of how poorly some of the NCAA investigation has been handled on multiple fronts.   We have grieved with and for Devon for two seasons now.

With the way the NCAA investigation of UNC has been handled in various media outlets and even with the way UNC itself has handled the scandal, it is easy to lump together all the players whose names got caught up in the fray.  And it’s easy to do that because little to no attention has been paid to some of the individuals who have lost so much when they did nothing wrong.   While a player like Marvin Austin, who made obvious bad choices, is the face of the scandal, Devon Ramsay is an almost invisible part of the overall picture.  Where is his face time?

Consider just a cursory look at what happened to Devon.

Devon has been a strong student during his time at UNC.  He comes from a great family.  He has been a great player with very realistic hopes for being a solid NFL player someday.  Devon has been a good team member and a good citizen of the UNC community.  Devon is an outstanding young man.

Four games into last season he was called into the UNC compliance office because of an email that turned up in the university’s investigation of academic improprieties.  The university had decided to go through all emails from Jennifer Wiley, the tutor who is accused of providing improper benefits to some of the players.  Early in Devon’s college career he had had a brief email exchange with Jennifer Wiley about a paper.  Devon had written the paper himself and asked Jennifer to look over it.  Jennifer suggested he move a couple of sentences from the end of the paper to the beginning.

When Devon was called in about this paper, which had been written a least two years prior, he was asked why he wrote certain sentences of the paper the way he did.  As can be expected, Devon could not remember every detail about a paper that he had written two years ago.  There was no indication that Devon had not written the paper himself, but the university sat him out of games “just in case” he was found to have done something wrong.

Then the agonizing wait ensued.  Devon’s case went into the lethargic case pile of this investigation.  (I still haven’t heard an explanation of why UNC’s investigation has taken over a year and half and still hasn’t totally been resolved, when cases involving people like Cam Newton seem to get resolved almost over night.)

Devon waited and waited and missed game after game.

Devon was given bad advice—like “just plead guilty and then you’ll be able to get back to playing faster.”  Devon’s case stalled out for several reasons that have not been officially acknowledged.  The NCAA finally handed down the penalty of “academic fraud” in November 2010 even though the UNC honor council did not even take his case to trial because there was no evidence of any academic impropriety.    The NCAA’s penalty was the loss of two years of eligibility.  Since Devon only had one year of eligibility remaining after the 2010 season, the NCAA’s penalty was an effective ban from any more college football for him.

For a player good enough to play in the NFL to have lost so much playing time and to have nothing on film for scouts to evaluate severely compromises one’s marketability as a player.  Devon’s opportunity cost from this undeserved penalty is high.

With the help of his mother, Sharon, and an attorney, Robert Orr, the NCAA finally reviewed Devon’s case.  In the end the NCAA totally reversed their decision in February 2011.

So between UNC’s decision to sit Devon out of games when he had not been proven guilty of any offense to the NCAA’s decision to exact a punishment he did not deserve, Devon missed all but the first four games of the 2010 season.  Devon missed the opportunity to help his team win games and to create more film for pro scouts to see.

When Devon was reinstated we were so happy that he would get to play his senior year.  We all had renewed hope that he could have a great senior year and that his NFL dreams were well within reach again.  Devon worked hard during spring football, during the summer, and during training camp. In fact, Devon is recognized by the coaches as one of the most dedicated, hardest working players on the team.

He started the opening game of the 2011 season at Kenan Stadium only to suffer a season ending injury to his knee during that game.   “Injury to insult” about sums up what has happened to Devon.

Since his injury, Devon has been working to recover from surgery and he has been working to find a way to still play football in the future.  While at last year’s Thanksgiving table we were praying for the appeal to the NCAA to go in his favor, this year again we are praying that he is granted a 6th year of eligibility.  Given the season he missed because of multiple errors by people other than Devon it seems like they owe him one, doesn’t it?  Even so, Devon remains in limbo.  He’s hoping, but there are no guarantees.

Devon has not given up; still, he has not given up.  And he is not angry or bitter, he is not using his energy to complain, but to keep his sights on dreams he’s had for a long, long time. He is trying to do what he needs to do make a sixth year possible—still following advice of UNC officials, still hoping that the NCAA will rule in his favor.

So when you think of the scandal at UNC and you feel tempted to picture criminal players illegally getting jewelry and trips to parties in Miami, don’t forget to think of Devon, too.   At the Duke game this Saturday it’s Senior Day.  Devon will go through it all “just in case” this is really his last game.  He’s not cleared to jog yet in his knee rehab so he’ll simply stand on the field with his position coach, Ken Browning, not quite knowing how to feel about the moment.  Will he be back this way again?  Or is this really it for him at UNC?

If there is any justice in the world, big time football will call an audible that sets the stage for Devon to have the running room he deserves.  And he’ll get face time for making the kinds of plays we know he can.

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