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ERIC SONDHEIMER

Dedicated Ramirez is an inspiration to his coach

December 07, 2006|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Hundreds of Southland high school football teams didn't make the playoffs. Hundreds more have been eliminated from the postseason, forcing coaches to evaluate what they did right, what they did wrong and what the future holds.

At Los Angeles Jefferson, which finished 2-8, Coach Doi Johnson could choose to focus on the negatives, whether it was missed tackles, fumbles, penalties, lack of speed or lack of strength.

Instead, from the moment the season ended, Johnson has remained excited, and Jesse Ramirez is the reason. The junior who plays running back and safety reminds Johnson why he wants to coach.

"For all the schools that didn't make the playoffs, I'm sure there's that one shining kid that makes it worth it, makes you want to work harder for next year," Johnson said. "He's an example of what everybody should be trying to do."

Ramirez, 5 feet 8 and 168 pounds, is playing four sports at Jefferson and has never received a grade other than A on his report card. This semester, he's getting A's in advanced-placement calculus, honors chemistry, American literature, U.S. history and health.

Johnson says his dream for the coming year is to make sure Ramirez is given the chance to attend an Ivy League college.

Ramirez was a first-team All-Coliseum League choice in football. He also starts for the basketball team, starts at shortstop for the baseball team and will run track.

He lives with his parents in a house that is three blocks from Jefferson. It's a neighborhood where Ramirez cannot simply decide to take a walk on a cloudless, gorgeous day.

"It's bad," he said. "You see people tagging, smoking, drinking. And that's just walking."

At Jefferson, African American and Latino students engaged in racially motivated brawls last year that brought out the police and TV cameras.

Ramirez saw some of the fighting and shook his head in disbelief.

"I just thought it was ridiculous," he said. "Why would they just fight people they didn't even know?"

What Ramirez knew was that on the football team, African American and Latino players had each other's backs and didn't care what race they represented.

He said, safety-wise, Jefferson is a lot better this year, with problems from overcrowding apparently solved. And academically, he said learning depends on how hard a student wants to work.

"Most teachers want to do well, but students don't allow them," he said. "They don't want to learn. They bring the class down. I pay attention, listen and try to understand rather than daydream."

One teacher who appreciates Ramirez's focus is William Graynom-Daly, who started Jefferson's AP calculus program in the 1980s.

"As a student, he's extraordinary," Graynom-Daly said. "He'd be one of the top six or seven students I've had."

With a shaved head and a fondness for wearing sports attire, Ramirez hardly fits the profile of a future valedictorian. His parents came from Mexico as teenagers and don't speak English. But they've impressed upon their children the need for an education.

Ramirez, 16, has become so good at math that he wants to become an engineer, an accountant or a math teacher. He dreams of playing sports at Harvard or Yale. He took classes for six weeks last summer at California as part of a scholarship program for top sophomore math students.

He keeps joining athletic teams at Jefferson even though he barely has time to sleep, waking up at 5 a.m., getting home at 7 p.m., and then focusing on homework. He loves football and remembers last season trying to tackle Los Angeles Dorsey's Stafon Johnson, an All-City running back who now plays at USC.

"The first time, he went right by me," Ramirez said. "The next time, I guess he wanted to run me over. He dipped down and tried to hit me straight up, and I tackled him."

Ramirez is using school as his ticket to a life of unlimited possibilities.

"I just want to get out of here, get a great education that will lead to a great job," he said.

While some coaches are feeling down, trying to gain the motivation and desire to start again, Johnson is feeling inspiration because his mission is to help Ramirez succeed.

"He embodies everything good about students and athletes," Johnson said.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

T.J. Simers has the day off.

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