ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Redskin quarterback Patrick Ramsey hopped into his pickup and drove down one of the few dirt roads left in the area, heading for his favorite place to eat.
"I hope they never pave it," he said, shaking his head with a Louisiana smile after the dust settled behind him.
The self-described simple country boy spoke of dogs, fishing, bow hunting, his intense competitive drive, his unbelievably strong arm and the limelight he'll have to endure as he begins training camp Monday as his team's undisputed starting quarterback.
Add the fact that no one, but no one, questions Ramsey's toughness, and it all adds up to quite an image -- one already claimed by another Southern-born NFL quarterback. Could Ramsey possibly be another Brett Favre?
But wait. There is not a hint of stubble on Ramsey's face. He's perfectly groomed with his Patagonia shirt, as always, buttoned all the way to the top. When his wife, Ginny, meets him at the restaurant, they are just as excited about the new church they've found as they are about Ramsey's ascent to fame and the starting lineup.
By the time lunch is over, it's clear Ramsey has staked an image category all to himself: clean-cut grit.
"He's clean-cut as a person," Ginny Ramsey said. "He does have grit as a football player. He's tough. He can take whatever comes at him on the field. I don't think that's contradictory."
Yes, but there are times when the 24-year-old Tulane grad looks too aw-shucks nice to be leading grumpy linemen in an NFL huddle. Yet his teammates swear that Ramsey indeed has that certain edge about him -- it's just that it's not on permanent display.
Coach Steve Spurrier has seen it enough to rest the entire season on the second-year quarterback's shoulders, vowing not to repeat the constant lineup shuffling that dogged last year's 7-9 team.
"He's tough. He's got courage," Spurrier said. "Plus, he's got the God-given ability to throw the ball."
That puts Ramsey leagues ahead of Heath Shuler, another Redskin first-round draft pick from the South, who flopped in the mid-1990s after proving he was a really nice guy but little else.
Ramsey said he learned persistence and attitude control from his father, who works in the oil industry, while growing up in Ruston, La.
"I'm pretty mild-mannered until a challenge is placed before me -- and then I attack it," Ramsey said. "I'm very adamant about things. But rather than demand and just stomp my foot, I try to reason with people."
Ginny Ramsey was quick to give an example. After lunch, the Ramseys were going to get a second dog, even though she wasn't exactly crazy about the idea.
"He just talked me into it, basically," she said. "He's pretty good at convincing. I've always told him if he didn't play football, he should be a salesman, because he can sell any idea. He gets excited."
A nice story, but fans are more interested in how Ramsey's personality will translate into victories for the Redskins, a franchise in turmoil for a decade. There have been two ownership changes, 14 starting quarterbacks and just one playoff appearance since 1992.
Spurrier is supposed to lead the revival, but the coach's dynamic offense didn't work last year with either Shane Matthews or Danny Wuerffel in charge.
There were five starting quarterback changes, and the only silver lining is that Ramsey got the perfect amount of work: five starts and two relief appearances. That's better than starting every game and getting beat up as a rookie, and obviously better than not playing at all.
"I was able to win a few, lose a few," Ramsey said. "I got every aspect of what it can offer. In retrospect, it was a great situation. I think Coach did a really good job of guarding me.... To be selfish about it, that was good for me, the fact that the media was more focused on Coach Spurrier than on picking the rookie apart."
There's no hiding this year. Ramsey is on the cover of the team's yearbook. Owner Dan Snyder spent big bucks to surround the quarterback with speedy receivers and a solid offensive line.
Ramsey has learned the intricacies of NFL footwork -- reluctantly, at first, because his sheer arm strength had been enough in the past. The curtain soon goes up on "The Washington Redskins starring Patrick Ramsey." The pressure will be on.
"I don't think I'll be smart enough until every ball's completed and no balls hit the ground," Ramsey said. "But I'm feeling much more comfortable in our offense, and that makes me confident.
"If we can't succeed this year, we're going to have to scratch our heads. I think we've got a really good team."
If there is success, Ramsey doesn't plan to flaunt it. He plans to guard his quiet, country life as much as possible.
"I don't want to be a flamboyant guy," Ramsey said. "I consider my personal life and my football thing with all the attention as two separate entities. Certainly in my personal life, I try to lay low."