By GENE PHELPS / NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – C.J. Ramirez doesn’t hate football, he just doesn’t want to play it anymore.
The 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive tackle from Itawamba AHS says Saturday’s 24th annual Alabama-Mississippi High School All-Star Football Classic in Mobile, Ala., will bring an end to his playing career.
“I love the Friday night experience,” said the soft-spoken 18-year-old. “I like the fellowship I have with the players, the life lessons and skills you obtain from playing football.
“I like football, I just feel like I’m through with it.”
Ramirez, who plans to major in business and marketing, says his biggest concern is that he has let people down with his decision not to play college ball.
His coach, Ashley Kuhn, hopes he will re-evaluate his decision after the trip to Mobile. Arkansas State, Samford and Southern Miss have shown an interest. Chattanooga made him an offer last week. The hometown school – Itawamba Community College – would gladly sign him.
“He has let it be known that playing is not his top priority right now,” Kuhn said. “I think he’ll compete well enough in Alabama to get even more offers.”
Kuhn calls Ramirez, who played right tackle this season, the best offensive lineman he’s ever coached.
“I say that because of his ability to run block and pass block equally well,” he said. “A lot of guys usually struggle with one.
“He’s got the skill level to play college football. He comes off the ball well. He’s got really good feet.”
Ramirez’s best attribute, Kuhn says, is the fact that he never gives up on a play. “He plays whistle to whistle.”
Ramirez, however, is confident his decision not to play is final … even, he says, if the University of Alabama came calling.
“I can’t think of anything that would change my mind,” he said. “I’m blessed to have this talent and I thank God every day for it. You’ve got to do something you want to do and this isn’t something I want to do.”
The fact that Ramirez has no desire to play college football doesn’t surprise his former coach, Starkville’s Jamie Mitchell, who coached the Indians in 2009.
“College coaches who see him are in awe that he doesn’t want to play,” Mitchell said. “He can play. He’s aggressive and has really good feet.”
Ramirez missed three games this season with a recurring knee injury – a dislocated knee cap – but said that’s not the reason he opted to give up football.
“I went through rehab and I wear a brace,” he said. “That’s helped a lot.”
Despite the fact that football is probably in his rearview mirror, Ramirez was thrilled with his selection to play in the Alabama-Mississippi game, which features 40 of the state’s top players.
“It was phenomenal news,” he said. “I was really excited.”
He’s spent the last few week’s running every day to prepare for his final appearance on the 100-yard field.
“It’s my last game,” he said. “I’m going to give it my all, put it on the line.
“I want to make my school, my family, and everybody who has been behind me proud.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org