Jack Ramsey enrolled at Illinois last fall expecting to see playing time as a true freshman. He was a big hit during Camp Rantoul, flashing excellent quickness and maneuverability on pass routes, option runs from the backfield and punt returns.
He may have been the starting punt returner. But the Chicago Simeon product was forced to the sidelines when the NCAA Clearinghouse refused to clear him for eligibility. After three weeks of hard work, the sudden absence of football was hard to handle.
"It was very frustrating to sit out," Jack explains. "I was catching on quick, and then I had to leave. It was very hard, but it must have happened for a reason. It's cool."
He was later reinstated, but it was too far into the season for him to rebound and earn playing time. So he was forced to redshirt.
"I got cleared during the Penn State week. It was hard sitting out, but I'm ready to rock and roll now."
Ramsey handles the delay philosophically. He realizes the benefits of the extra time on campus.
"I think I'm more ready to play now than last fall because I got stronger in the off season. And I had to learn the game. I think I benefitted by redshirting rather than just playing right away. It could have hurt me if I'd played early. So I think sitting out helped me."
As good as he looked last fall, Jack was a quarterback in high school and needed time to learn a new position.
"Yeah, I'm still learning how to run routes."
Scout team work doesn't always prepare players for the college game as much of their work is not done at full speed. But Ramsey saw advantages to it.
"Going against Vontae (Davis) everyday, and Dere Hicks, it bettered me as a receiver. And like knowing different coverages and stuff, it helped me a lot."
Jack was a vital scout team player due to his athletic ability. He could imitate top opponents at several positions and give the Illinois defense a good look. He especially enjoyed an occasional opportunity to portray a spread offense quarterback.
"They had me playing quarterback a little bit, a look for different teams. It was all right. I had fun because I can't play quarterback any more because I'm too short for the college level. It was fun while it lasted. They also played me at running back, just to give the opposite team a quick running back for their defensive look."
While the 5'-11", 190 pounder played slot receiver last fall, he has been moved to wide receiver this spring and prefers it.
"They moved me to the outside. They said I fit better in the offense on the outside. I think it's a better position for me. Instead of blocking linebackers, I can go against corners that are my size."
Ramsey has a special knack for returning punts. He has a quick first step and can accelerate to the blocking wall as well as anyone. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson was ineligible last fall, and he is likely the top punt returner going into this season. But don't sleep on Jack Ramsey. He will challenge Fayson all the way.
"Punt returns are my number one priority. I know Jarred is in front of me, so I just want to help out the team on punt returns. It's something big for me."
One advantage of redshirting is the lack of pressure in practice. Coaches are working hard to prepare those who will be playing in the games and have less time to devote to the reserves. Jack enjoyed that while it lasted, but he realizes his value to the team when the coaches are after him to improve.
"Yeah, I can see it now. The coaches are on me every day, making sure I study and stuff like that. I'm feeling good about it. I'm ready to do something this year. Now I've seen what the other players had to go through. Film study and watching different coverages, it is a learning process."