By Jim Irish
Kicker James Ramon has struck like a lightning bolt out of the blue for the Bastrop High School football team this season.
Ramon, a soccer specialist, had previously never played football.
But that inexperience has not prevented Ramon, a senior, from being a valuable asset. Three weeks ago, he nailed a 34-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining in the game to lift the Bears to their first victory of the season 30-27 at Kerrville Tivy. Bastrop (2-6 overall, 2-2 in District 13-5A, Division 2) actually ended a six-game losing skid dating to a bi-district loss to Liberty Hill last season.
Kerrville’s head coach called two timeouts to give Ramon ample time to contemplate the dramatic kick. Ramon didn’t flinch.
“It didn’t affect me that much,” Ramon said about the wait during two timeouts. “Honestly, I was nervous. Nerves are good sometimes. It was straight from the center (of the field). The (team) set me up pretty good. Good snap, good hold.”
Bastrop head coach Jake Griedl had his own version of the kick.
“They froze him twice with the two timeouts,” Griedl said. “In the huddle, (Ramon) put his fingers on his wrist to feel his pulse and said, “Yeah, I’m fine.’ He goes out there and drills it.”
This season, Ramon has proven his kicking ability, converting 31-of-34 extra points and 10-of-12 field goals. He has had one extra point and one field goal blocked. The only field goal he missed was a 46-yarder that appeared to sail directly over the goalpost. His farthest field goal has been from 42 yards, in the season opener against Lehman at Memorial Stadium and against Veterans Memorial on the road.
"They froze him twice with the two timeouts. In the huddle, (Ramon) put his fingers on his wrist to feel his pulse and said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.' He goes out there and drills it."
-- Bastrop coach Jake Griedl
“It wasn’t easy,” Ramon said about the 42-yard field goal at home. “It was from the right hash mark. I was super excited.”
Ramon appeared in the right place and at the right time
Ramon is a classic example of being in the right place at the right time. This season, Bastrop had no experienced kicker on the roster after the graduation of Jonathan Spurlock (currently on the roster of Texas A&M - Commerce and the transfer of Mekhi Jefferson to Smithville).
During spring football, Ramon was assisting football players who were coaching the high school girls in preparation for the annual powder puff game. After one practice, Bastrop quarterback Seth Mouser encouraged Ramon to kick a couple of field goals. Wearing sneakers, Ramon converted two short kicks and then hit his first attempt at 45 yards.
“(Mouser) took a video and thought it was crazy,” Ramon said.
Griedl then pressed Ramon to try out in the spring, but he declined.
"Over the summer, something clicked. So one morning, I decided to come to football practice. ...That was the first time I ever put on a helmet and should pads in my life. It's a lot of fun. ..."
-- Bastrop kicker James Ramon
“Over the summer, something clicked,” Ramon said. “So one morning, I decided to come to football practice. I started kicking over the summer twice a week. That was the first time I ever put on a helmet and shoulder pads in my life. It’s a lot of fun. I feel I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
The transition from soccer to football hasn't been difficult
Ramon said the transition from soccer to kicker in football has been fairly easy.
“The balls are just a little bit different,” he said. “You have to get under it more. Make sure you have the same routine every time.”
Wide receiver Austin Tobola has been the holder for Ramon. Tobola’s primary duty is to have the laces turned away from Ramon’s kick.
Since the summer, Ramon has also spent considerable time in the weight room and added muscle to his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame. He expects to drop some weight during soccer season because of the amount of running required.
There is no question about the strength of Ramon’s right leg. In warmups before the first district contest against San Antonio Pieper, Ramon hit a 57-yard field goal.
Griedl has been familiar with some talented kickers during his coaching tenure. At Lake Travis, Griedl observed Cameron Dicker, who played for the University of Texas and is currently on the practice squad of NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. At Marshall High School, Griedl had Buck Buchanan, who is on the roster of Louisiana Tech.
“(Dicker and Buchanan) grew up kicking,” Griedl said. “James is just a soccer kid who came out. All three are consistent. They don’t let the nerves affect them. I think James is the strongest in the weight room out of those guys. You can really see that on his kickoffs. He has all the attributes that (Dicker and Buchanan) had (but) not as polished.”
Bastrop has also turned over punting duties to Ramon, who, according to Griedl, has a 31-yard average.
“Punting has been more of a challenge,” Ramon said. “It’s not as natural as kicking. I’ve been doing a rugby-style kick, where I roll out to the side. That helps because I’m a soccer player.”
Griedl has been astonished at Ramon’s rapid improvement at punting.
“He’s doing well there, too,” Griedl said. “He’s just an athlete. If I would have come out there that first day, and no one told me that was his first year, I would have thought he was doing it his entire life.”
Ramon is probably as talented in soccer as football, having been selected first-team all district his sophomore season and second team his junior season. With a weighted school average of 102 and rank of No. 32 in his class, he will be an attractive applicant academically at any school.
Ramon’s father, also named James, has coached his son for most of his club soccer career, including his current team, Arsenal of Bastrop. Ramon’s older sister, Mariah, played soccer at Bastrop and then four years at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“I think people assume we have a soccer or bust mentality, but that has never been the case,” the father said. …All I want is for my kids to have a plan. …I think he could do quite well at kicking. He seems to have a knack for it.”
Ramon interested in kicking in college
Ramon has the ability to play soccer at the next level but feels that his future is in football at the moment.
“I think that kicking could definitely be something I’m really interested in,” he said. “I think I’m pretty good at it. I think I could get an offer and get my (college) paid for.”
"James is definitely a collegiate-level kicker. He's been clutch. He's been a rock for the entire team. There's ice in his veins."
-- Griedl about Ramon
“James is definitely a collegiate-level kicker,” he said. “He’s been clutch. He’s been a rock for the entire team. There’s ice in his veins.”
Bastrop could possibly have its second consecutive kicker on a college roster next year.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer living in Bastrop, Texas.