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Ramirez Proves It Never Hurts to Ask

October 27, 1998|LON EUBANKS

Art Ramirez remembers writing to Cal State Fullerton men's soccer Coach Al Mistri asking him for a chance to play for the Titans.

Mistri offered one ray of hope: Ramirez, a graduate of Huntington Beach High, could come to the open tryout in the fall.

"There must have been 80 people there that day trying out, but I made up my mind that it was my last chance to play soccer, and I had to give it everything I had," Ramirez said.

Ramirez didn't overwhelm anyone, but Mistri liked his enthusiasm and effort, and kept him around.

Now, two years later, Ramirez is one of the top players on a team that is in contention for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title and an NCAA playoff berth.

With 13 goals in 15 games and five games remaining in the regular season, Ramirez is in range of the school's single-season record of 18 goals set by Eddie Soto in 1994. During the team's recent five-game winning streak, Ramirez scored nine times.

Ramirez said he's pleased his hard work is finally paying off.

"I was redshirted that first year, and Coach Mistri let me know that I had a long way to go," Ramirez said. "After the season, he told me I was the worst player on the team, and I probably was the worst.

"He really put it on me. He told me he thought I had potential, but I still had to prove myself. I can tell you, I didn't feel a lot of love in the room right then."

Ramirez walked away from that meeting with choked-back tears, but he said his determination grew stronger. "I was 6 foot and 150 pounds in December of my freshman year," Ramirez said. "When I came back the next fall, I was 6-1 and 186 pounds. I worked out hard every day.

"That summer, I'd run in the morning, play soccer, then I'd go to work from 1 to 9 at a Mexican restaurant in Huntington Beach. After that, I would eat and go straight to the gym to work out. I ate a lot, and gained weight and strength, but I didn't lose a step of speed. It was hectic at times, but it was worth it."

Last season, Ramirez spent most of the time backing up senior forwards Sheldon Thomas and Charlie Lynch but moved into the starting lineup when their eligibility ended.

"I came a long way last spring after the seniors left," Ramirez said. "One of the practice games we played was against the Galaxy, and that was a good measure for me. It showed me the level I need to get to, and I think I can."

Ramirez said he wants to be the first of 26 grandchildren in his family to graduate from college. "I have a younger brother and a younger sister and I want to try to set an example for them too," he said.

Ramirez said the only negative is that he has been building up some student-loan bills along the way. Ramirez said he received only a small partial athletic grant last year, but it was expanded this year to also pay his tuition for the fall semester. He said he also receives some non-athletic financial aid from the university.

"But playing soccer ends up costing me money because if I weren't playing, I could be working to pay for more of my school," Ramirez said. "But I think it's worth it. I'm happy to be playing, and hope I can some day play professionally."

Mistri is also pleased. "He's taken the challenge and the opportunity and made the most of it," he said.


The men's soccer team lost its first MPSF game of the season Sunday to fifth-ranked Washington, 2-1, but Mistri wasn't dismayed.

"It wasn't that we didn't play well," he said. "We did, but we were playing a very good soccer team, and it was a close game. One of our shots hit the post, and if we had gotten that one, it could have been a tie. But we've won games this season that could have gone either way too."

Ramirez was held scoreless and Mistri said Washington played good defense against him. Colby Jackson scored the only Titan goal.

Fullerton's loss left the MPSF without an unbeaten team. Washington, UCLA, Fullerton and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo all have one conference loss. The Titans play San Luis Obispo Friday and UC Santa Barbara Sunday.

"When we get in trouble, it's when we don't beat the teams we should," Mistri said. "If we can beat those teams, then play well at Stanford the following week, then I think we'll have a good chance to get in the playoffs."

The MPSF champion gets the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, but other teams have a chance to make the field as at-large selections.

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