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Former NFL player has raised the bar at Coppin State and made graduating a top priority for student-athletes

Derrick Ramsey believes in the axiom that timing is everything.

Derrick Ramsey bio

Position: Director of athletics at Coppin State and a Division I Leadership Council member.
Previous positions: Deputy secretary of commerce for the state of Kentucky; athletics director at Kentucky State; director of development and community relations at the University of Kentucky; football player for the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Kentucky; master’s in sports administration, Eastern Kentucky.
What you didn’t know: Ramsey’s hometown of Hastings, Fla., which is southwest of St. Augustine, is known for its potato crops. “When I was growing up, no city in America produced more potatoes than my hometown.”

His experiences have taught him that, and he is now passing along that message from his position as the director of athletics at Coppin State.

Before Ramsey arrived at his current job, the school’s Graduation Success Rate was 58 percent. That number has grown to 75 percent, which is part of a culture change he has instilled that emphasizes graduating over staying eligible.

Ramsey is an example of what can happen when a strong work ethic meets opportunity.

He was a standout quarterback at Kentucky, played nine years in the NFL as a tight end, purchased and managed properties in the real estate business, then returned to his alma mater as an administrator. He also has served as deputy secretary of commerce for the state of Kentucky and has run athletics departments at two HBCUs.

“Every stop I’ve made since high school, I’ve been fortunate to be around good teammates and mentors,” Ramsey said. “While we don’t have the money to perform with some of the schools in our conference and certainly bigger Division I schools in athletics, what I tell my young people is, given the opportunity, we can compete with anybody academically.” 

In the past five years, the student-athletes at Coppin State have never averaged below a cumulative 3.0 GPA. In 2012, Coppin State was awarded an NCAA Accelerating Academic Success grant worth $900,000 over three years to assist with academic initiatives. The money can be used for such programs as putting two dozen student-athletes through summer school and purchasing 23 laptop computers that teams can take on the road to keep up with classroom schedules.

These initiatives wouldn’t be possible without the grant.

“Our teams travel by vans and buses,” said Ramsey, who has a goal of having 75 laptop computers available for the department. “We have a program where our kids can watch a class while it is occurring, or they watch a recording of the class. I’ve changed the mindset, and our kids understand that we’re in a four-year graduation cycle.”   

The foundation of Ramsey’s success began in Hastings, Fla., where he was influenced by watching his mother own and manage rental properties. He was also an accomplished athlete, winning two state football championships as the starting quarterback during his freshman and sophomore years.

After the family moved to Camden, N.J., he quarterbacked his new high school to another state title and won a state championship in basketball.

He accepted a scholarship to Kentucky, where in 1975 he became the third African-American to start at quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, following Condredge Holloway of  Tennessee and Don Gaffney of Florida.

In 1976 he led Kentucky to the SEC championship, one of only two conference championships in the Wildcats’ football history.

During his senior season, Kentucky went 10-1 but was not eligible to win the conference title due to probation for violations that occurred before Ramsey enrolled there.

“It’s always tough when you’re penalized for other’s misgivings,” Ramsey said. “But that season we were unfazed by it all.”

Kentucky finished sixth in the final Associated Press football poll.

Ramsey’s next step was the NFL. The Oakland Raiders drafted him in the fifth round. In those days, almost all African-American college quarterbacks who went on to the NFL were switched to another position.

“The Raiders told me they were drafting me as an athlete and not a quarterback,” Ramsey said. “When I got there, they weren’t sure where I would play.”

After experiments on defense, running back and wide receiver, Ramsey settled in at tight end. The pinnacle of his time came when the 1980 Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV.

“I was 24 years old and in my third year in professional football,” Ramsey said. “I thought I would be back on that stage every two or three years. But things just don’t work that way. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.”

It’s the kind of lesson he can share with Coppin State’s student-athletes.

He did have another chance at Super Bowl glory, but his 1985 New England Patriots team lost to the Chicago Bears. 

After his NFL career ended in 1987 with 188 receptions for 2,364 yards and 21 touchdowns, Ramsey purchased and managed rental properties.

He returned to Kentucky in 1994 to be the community relations officer. Going back to Lexington was something he always wanted to do after his undergraduate days.

“My four years there were absolutely tremendous,” Ramsey said. “My only regret was that I didn’t go back sooner.” 

Ramsey also worked as an analyst on Kentucky’s radio broadcasts and became the director of development and community relations, where he coordinated fundraising strategies.

He left the Wildcats to be the director of athletics at Kentucky State from 1999 to 2003. Ramsey’s next stop was becoming Kentucky’s deputy secretary of commerce, where he managed a $50 million budget.

Ramsey stepped into his current position in 2008 and believes the campus, located in Baltimore, is a gem.

 “I wanted this job so I could impact lives,” Ramsey said. “In 2009, we added new athletic facilities, and some of our programs around campus are world-class. Our nursing school has been the top in the state of Maryland for a long time, and we have the fastest-growing sports management program in the state.”