After weeks of travel, hundreds of drills and thousands of hours spent in the weight room, a moment of clarity hit Jackson Ramey like a speeding defensive lineman.
He had made it.
Ramey, 14, has dedicated this past summer heading into this eighth-grade year at Banks County Middle School to improving his skills at offensive tackle over the course of several high-profile camps. It’s a journey that has taken him up and down the country, and earned him a roster spot for the 2016 Football University Youth All-American Bowl on Jan. 9, 2016 at Saint Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s probably one of the biggest honors that I’ve ever had to play in such an amazing event like that,” said Ramey on Wednesday at his Hoschton home. “It kind of overwhelmed me at first. I was standing there with my jaw open, I was so excited.”
It’s high praise coming from a national champion.
Ramey, an accomplished weightlifter for more than two years, set a youth American record in the snatch at the 2014 USA Weightlifting International Youth Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colo. He picked up three gold medals at the event in the U-13 level, and recently picked up three silver medals at the U-15 level at the 2015 National Youth Championships in Minnesota.
Ramey turned 14 this May.
“It’s an emotional roller-coaster being Jackson’s dad,” said his father Hank Ramey, who is principal of Banks County Middle. “To be on a high, to be coming off a high ... I’m so excited for him. It takes a great deal of dedication for someone his age.”
At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Ramey will likely tower over his new teammates in Homer. He recently transferred there from C.W. Davis Middle, in Flowery Branch, and said he was looking forward to joining up with his new teammates.
And he’ll have plenty of stories to tell them. After catching eyes at a regional skills camp in Atlanta, Ramey turned heads in early July at the USA
Football National Development Games in Canton, Ohio, where he rubbed shoulders with top middle school talent throughout the country, close to where NFL stars are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After a week filled with food, fun and football, the crowning achievement was a round-robin jamboree tournament with teams representing red, white, blue and silver. Representing Team Silver, Ramey suited up with a Team USA uniform for the first time — he hopes it’s not the last.
Team USA alumni who have gone on to play in the NFL include the St. Louis Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley, the Carolina Panthers’ Devin Funchess and the Arizona Cardinals’ Tyrann Matheiu.
“It was probably during the game, around halftime, where I realized where I was, how much history was seen on that field,” said Ramey. “I kept going at it, because there’s no greater honor than wearing the red, white and blue with the three letters ‘USA’ on the chest.”
It would open the door for a second major invitational two hours away in Dublin, Ohio just weeks later. Ramey performed at the Invite FBU Top Gun, where he squared off in position drills with some of the top offensive line talent at his age group in the country.
Even with his busy schedule, Ramey said he still found time to hit the gym and keep up his strength work. At home, he typically spends his afternoons after class by working out at Peak Performance Weightlifting in Buford.
“I definitely think they can go hand in hand,” said Ramey. “You see colleges doing weightlifting programs, to make you quicker and stronger and more explosive. That will always be a huge part of my life ... It has made me the player I am today.”
Out of 800 athletes at the Top Gun weekend, Ramey was one of 43 chosen to participate in next year’s FBU Youth All-American Bowl. He’ll be pitted against the best youth talent heading into seventh and eighth grade from across the country. The team’s players will even get VIP seating at the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
But Ramey still feels fortunate to be playing at such a high level after recovering from a broken leg last November.
Ramey suffered a broken fibula during a school playoff game against White County, and spent three months rehabbing it before he was able to work without a boot in March.
After finding success in football and weightlifting, Ramey said his dream of playing college football hasn’t changed.
Still, he hasn’t lost focus of an already-scheduled regional weightlifting competition this September, where Ramey can qualify for youth nationals again. Some habits never die.
“It’s a hard choice, not being able to do a meet,” he said. “I’ll miss training for a week (during the FBU bowl game), but I’ll probably find some way to work out down there.”