While we see the best players in college sports coming from the top programs across the nation, many of the players in the professional ranks don’t necessarily come from those schools. Pro Bowl wide receivers Chad Johnson and Steve Smith came from Santa Monica Community College, Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Ben Rothlisberger came from the University of Miami in Ohio and there are plenty more to be named. But the point is that athletes from schools that aren’t as big as the Dukes or the North Carolinas or Ohio States, like the ones from UC Irvine, have as good a chance to make it to the Pros.
I recently had the privilege of meeting Cal Poly San Luis Obispo wide receiver Ramses Barden. Barden has been a small-school boy all his life. The Altadena native was a multi-sport athlete at La Canada Flintridge Prep and went on to break various wide receiving records at Cal Poly SLO. He is projected by some scouts to go as high as the second round in next month’s draft, which is remarkable for a Division II athleteSome scouts to project him to go as high as the second round in next month’s draft, which is remarkable for a Division II athlete, project him.
Barden is the epitome of the attitude that athletes who come from similar backgrounds should have. He has proven that confidence and a dedication to hard work, no matter where you are or where you are from, will lead you to succeed. Take notes, UCI athletes:
The Swagger: What’s up Ramses, where you at right now?
Ramses Barden: Mark Sanchez and I are training in Mission Viejo for all of our field stuff and then at the Elite Athletic Club in Westlake Village. But I’ll be mostly in Orange County with Mark for the next couple weeks.
Swagger: What is it like training with Sanchez?
Barden: He’s a really good guy; you can see why Coach Carroll had a hard time letting go of him. He is an outstanding person and an outstanding player. He’s a hard worker and he is dedicated. He has a great family, and I’ve seen nothing but quality characteristics, which is surprising because you don’t expect a guy coming from one of the top quarterback lineages at USC to be so down-to-earth.
Swagger: You dominated at Flintridge Prep, a then -Division 13 program, then dominated at Cal Poly (206 receptions, 4,203 yards and 50 touchdowns), and now you look like you’re going to be playing in the NFL. How has this ride been?
Barden: It’s been a ride. Interesting to say the least. You don’t look at it like ‘Wow, I am going to be in the NFL,’ you look at it as business, as work. There is no time to stop and get star-struck because there is a reason why you are with the elite. As soon as you start thinking that ‘Wow I am working with this guy from USC’ or ‘Wow I am going to be on the same field as Ray Lewis,’ you got to stop. You have to show confidence at all times that you can compete and win against anybody you go against. There isn’t really any time to reflect and be happy that you have an opportunity. You have to seize that opportunity to continue to grow and continue to get better.
Swagger: Not playing against Division I opponents week in and week out has scouts knocking you for being raw. How did you answer those questions?
Ramses: That whole Senior Bowl week I had a little ankle issue, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of playing with some of the best competition in the country. I wanted to show that toughness that I am going to play through some little nicks and pains here and there. I want to compete in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A lot of what we did at the Senior Bowl was new to me, but I worked on routes with guys who have been in the NFL or who are in the NFL. I am only going to be raw for so long. The physical tools I bring to the table (6 feet 6 inches, 230 lbs.) should be an exciting opportunity for coaches to teach and mold me into one of the best receivers to play the game.
Swagger: Its seems as if you were a 6-foot freshman in high school playing basketball a few years ago. Did you expect any of this?
Barden: I like to live in the moment, and enjoy the moment. But I am always preparing for things to come. You have a goal to play a sport as long as you can, and that’s what you do. Every day you go out and you work, whether it is in the weight room or on the field, because you can’t just sit back and wish for it. You have to put the work in.
Swagger: You played basketball before getting into football. You even played with Gabe Pruitt of the Boston Celtics and with Jordan Farmar of the Lakers. Are you in contact with them?
Barden: I haven’t talked to Gabe in at least a year. Haven’t talked to Jordan in a while either. We all just got busy in our own career paths. Gabe and me are still cool though.
Swagger: Who would have thought that those guys would go on to play in the NBA, and you are going on to the NFL?
Barden: Yeah. Who would have thought?
Swagger: What was the weirdest question they asked you at the NFL Combine?
Barden: Someone asked me what I would take out of a burning house.
Swagger: What did you say?
Barden: Haha,(Laughs) I didn’t answer that straight when they asked me that at the combine. I told them a couple different things. But I told them I would grab some pictures, things that bring back memories and that remind you of family and friends.
Swagger: You broke one of Jerry Rice’s records and tied one of Randy Moss’s in college. What is it like being in that company?
Barden: It’s not that great because both of those guys have gone on to have exceptional careers and I am just really getting started. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it … it’s great that my name is next to theirs, but I have a long way to go and a lot to learn to achieve the same things they have achieved. I’d like to say it has put me on the right path and given me some confidence.
Swagger: Do you have anything to say to guys who come from places like Cal Poly or UCI?
Barden: Anything can happen. Things are harder. You have an up-field battle, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. It should encourage them and give them the extra motivation to push. If you really want something you got to find it. It may take you a little longer than those guys in well-known atmospheres, but they will find you.
Swagger: Can I be in your entourage?
Ramses: I will have to think about that one (laughs).
Barden will be a part of USC pro-day next Wednesday before he awaits his selection at the NFL draft.