With unmatched speed and surprising strength for "the little guy," Lathrop mighty mite Michael Ramos never ceased to amaze his football coach.
Joe Pirillo, a former all-conference collegiate offensive lineman, just wishes he could have done more to help the 5-foot-6 playmaker.
Even with an undersized offensive line and no other weapon to share the spotlight, Ramos raced into the Spartan record books. With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he is believed to be the school’s all-time leading rusher, Pirillo said.
“With Mike, it’s a combination of his speed and his ability to not only bounce off defenders but get back to his speed,” Pirillo said. “He’s just so quick. This past season, he was definitely our only option, but I think he liked the challenge. He liked being the be go-to guy. He wanted the ball.”
Ramos isn’t done.
He’ll carry the torch for the Spartan program in the 45th annual Lions All-Star Football Classic on Saturday at Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy. Kickoff is at 7.
The Lions All-Star Classic pits the top senior players in the northern and southern halves of the Central Valley against one another. The North is represented by schools from Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, Stockton, Tracy, Lodi and the Mother Lode. The South fields talent from Modesto, Turlock, Merced and the West Side communities.
The North will be coached by Anthony Martinez of Lincoln High, while Hilmar’s Frank Marques will orchestrate the South.
For the first time in his prep career, Ramos won’t be the focal point of his team’s offensive and defensive schemes. He is one of only three running backs listed on the North roster, and he’ll have the luxury of a fullback, too — Sonora’s Jack Camara, the Mother Lode League Most Valuable Player.
While Ramos looks forward to being surrounded by the area’s best talent, his focus hasn't changed.
At 5-foot-6, "the little guy” wants to make a big impact.
“People see me and don’t think much of me because of my size,” said Ramos, who earned all-Valley Oak League first team honors in the fall and plans to play football and run track at Sacramento City. “I just want to show them I got heart and all of that."
This past year, “I learned to never give up on yourself … to trust the process,” he added. "I think I’ve always believed in myself, but that’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me focused.”
Ramos built on a breakout junior season, establishing career highs for carries, yards, yards per game and touchdowns.
He rushed for 1,425 yards and nine scores. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and had three games of 200 or more yards, including a scintillating performance in a win over Battle for I-5 rival Weston Ranch. Ramos rushed for 388 yards and four TDs.
Pirillo’s lasting image is of Ramos lining up as quarterback in the Wildcat formation against Sierra. The Spartans had only recently installed the package but needed every play in the book to eke out a 21-20 victory over the Timberwolves.
Ramos’ QB sneak gave Lathrop the lead.
"He took the snap and lowered his shoulder and put himself in,” Pirillo said. “That’s just him. I ask him to do something and he’ll do it.
"It shows how tough the kid is. He was on double duty, too, playing strong safety and stopping the run. That’s just who he is. I don’t know how the little guy does it.”
James Burns is a freelance reporter with more than 20 years of covering high school and collegiate sports in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @jburns1980.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Lions All-Star Football Classic
WHEN: Saturday, June 16
KICKOFF: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Wayne Schneider Stadium, Tracy High
ADMISSION: $10, kids 6-under are free.