FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas Razorbacks defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads noticed something different in junior safety Santos Ramirez this spring. Rhoads retreated to his office after each practice to watch film, and every time Ramirez joined him.
“Santos stayed with me every night,” Rhoads said Thursday. “Every night, he sat in there listening to me talk out loud about everybody on the field. It wasn’t sitting in there to individually be critiqued, it was in there to learn the defense.
“So I knew what direction the young man was moving.”
Ramirez has started 10 games over the last two seasons and — at times — showed flashes of the great safety that Arkansas coaches have believed he could be. But only at times. His inconsistency made him a liability for the Hogs defense. It cost him his starting position late last season, and Ramirez began the spring second on the depth chart.
But by the end of the spring, he was on the first-team defense and a team captain.
“It was just being young and just full of myself,” Ramirez said of his past inconsistency. “Out there thinking that nobody can tell me nothing. I know what I’ve got to do in order to do this. Just trying to party and get into the college life and everything.
“But I realized you’ve got to make sacrifices in this game in order to be great. … Now I’m just bought all the way in. Each and every day, I’m ready to get better at something.”
During a game last season against Ole Miss, Ramirez hit quarterback Chad Kelly and forced a late fourth-quarter fumble that clinched the Razorbacks’ 34-30 victory.
The next week, he was part of a historically terrible Arkansas defense that allowed 543 rushing yards in a 56-3 loss at Auburn.
In the Hogs’ next game, Ramirez returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown and the first score in Arkansas’ 31-10 win over 11th-ranked Florida.
As Ramirez said himself: He was inconsistent. And after the 2016 season ended, he made up his mind to change.
“I was at a point where I was tired of being this inconsistent safety,” Ramirez said. “This person who can come out one game and have a big game and then have the worst game of my life. That’s not the guy that I am. That’s not the guy I knew I was capable of being.
“Before I was done with college, I knew I had to make a difference. I had to be what I had the potential to be. That’s my goal and that’s what I’m setting out to do. First-team All-American. First-team All-SEC. I believe I can get it. It’s just gonna take work.”
By the end of the spring, he had impressed his teammates and coaches that he was named a team captain, despite the fact coach Bret Bielema’s captains are almost always seniors.
“I was humbled,” Ramirez said of being named a captain. “The fact that my peers and my coaches and everything saw me as a team captain even though I’ve still got one year left, it just shows they appreciate the growth I’ve made.”