Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72


By Kevin Haynes / photos by Jeff Glidden and Al Fuchs

Oberlin Head Football Coach Jeff Ramsey springs up from behind the desk in his tidy office in Philips Physical Education Center and steps over to a bulletin board on the wall, where he points to a small photo. It's a simple snapshot, dating back to 1991 when Ramsey was an assistant coach at the University of Nevada at Reno. From behind the sidelines, you can see a line of four Nevada football players in blue jerseys standing at the edge of the playing field, holding hands. To their right, another cluster of teammates hunches together in a tight huddle.

"This was taken during the first overtime of a semifinal playoff game," he says. "We failed to score on our first OT possession, and Boise State was lining up for a 27-yard field goal."

That, he points out, is when the Nevada Wolfpack gathered together in an impromptu display of team unity--or, as Ramsey likes to call it, family. "These guys are holding hands," he says, still awed by the moment. "It just shows the family concept that had been built there. They knew that if they just stuck together, they could do anything."

Ramsey looks up from the photo and smiles. "That's what I'm trying to do here."

Friday morning. On the first day of autumn, Yeomen co-captain Ryan Catignani '01 of Toledo wakes up to discover that he's responsible for the "Quote of the Week" in The Oberlin Review. The linebacker's pithy observation: "Losing sucks."

Ryan speaks from extensive experience. The NCAA Division III Oberlin Yeomen began the 2000 season in the throes of a 29-game losing streak, the longest in the nation, and have already dropped their first three games this fall by a combined score of 114-13.

The team hasn't won since opening day in 1997, Ryan's first game as a freshman. Incredibly, that victory --a one-point win over Thiel--snapped a 40-game winless streak stretching back to 1992. But, somehow, thanks to Ramsey and the rejuvenated backing of the Oberlin community, the future is no longer bleak for the perennial cellar-dwellers of the North Coast Athletic Conference. In fact, tomorrow may wind up even more beautiful than this brilliant blue morning. That's when the Yeomen will report to Dill Field to tackle Case Western Reserve University, which is coming off a 37-0 drubbing and hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in its first three games. "This is our best chance to win," says Ryan.

Jeff Ramsey, the son of a successful junior-college football coach in California, became the 31st head coach in Oberlin football's 108-year history in 1999. "It was somewhat eye-opening to have only 14 players show up for your first meeting," says the former wide receiver at UC-Davis, who still looks fit enough to burn a cornerback or two. "I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad."

With the support of the Oberlin administration and admissions office, Ramsey immediately embarked upon a major recruitment drive. "The thing we sold about Oberlin College is, number one, you're going to get the best education offered to you by any of the schools that are recruiting you--and we competed with the University of Chicago, some of the Ivies, and some of the schools in the Great Lakes College Association."

Oberlin also offered qualified student athletes "an excellent financial aid package" and something that few schools could put on the table: the opportunity to play right away. "For freshmen, that's big," Ramsey says, noting the odds of cracking a 150-man roster at a lower-tier academic school are "very slim."

As a result, the Yeomen started the 2000 season with 50 players on the roster--almost a 60 percent increase--including just three seniors and a staggering 30 freshmen. The diverse squad features a sizable contingent from Texas and the first significant group from Ohio in recent years. There are also three Mormons, two valedictorians and, for a short time anyway, a conservatory student. "This year we can at least run a practice," says Ramsey, whose wife, Elizabeth, coaches the Yeowomen volleyball team.

"It's not quite the way I'd like to run it. To run a true practice the way it needs to be done we need 70 players--and we're well on our way."

His players have bought into Ramsey's rebuilding plan since Day One.

"It wasn't what he said, it was the confidence he had," says transfer student Cody McCoy '03, a wide receiver whom Ramsey describes as the team's "most exciting" offensive player. "Some guys say, 'We may do this' or 'We might do that.' Coach Ramsey says, "We're going to."

"What we're doing now is building a program from the ground up," observes freshman linebacker (and valedictorian) Behrad Mahdi '04, who can be found just about every morning playing classical piano in the Burton Hall dorm lounge. "That's the hardest thing to do in any sport."

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