Anyone who has been focused on the East Carolina University football team's record, quarterback controversy or coaching struggles has missed the real story this season—a redshirt freshman who has shone through all the storms.
Aaron Ramseur has emerged as a stellar linebacker and one of the strongest players on defense. In just his second start, the Pirates were taking on Temple and the Owls were down to the two-yard-line early in the game. But Ramseur stepped in front of quarterback Logan Marchi’s pass and intercepted it, the first of his collegiate career, keeping the Pirates in a game they would eventually lose. Right there, a star was born. He finished his second start with a game-high 11 tackles.
“He just rolled out and I followed him and he ended up throwing it right into my hands and it was a great feeling,” Ramseur said. “Just being able to help out the team was pretty good for me because it was my first interception. I really felt the importance of it and me and the whole team are trying to get more.”
To start the season, Ramseur was the a rotation player, coming in and out at linebacker in the first four games. He played in every game but recorded just one tackle and was really no factor while the Pirates were getting crushed by James Madison, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Then, in week five against the University of South Florida, head coach Scottie Montgomery saw an opportunity to insert him in the starting lineup to help contain the Bulls mobile quarterback, Quinton Flowers. While ECU was crushed, Ramseur recorded five tackles and found himself in nearly every play. That game was all Montgomery need to see to keep him in the starting lineup.
“He’s been a very consistent kind of player and he’s really done a great job for us,” Montgomery said. “We’re really happy to have him here as he continues to grow up. We think he has star potential.”
The new linebackers story started long before coming to Greenville. Ramseur grew up in Shelby, North Carolina as one of ten children of Kenneth and Minnie Ramseur. Following in his older brother's footsteps, he attended Crest high school, racking up accolades along the way.
The Chargers had back-to-back 16-0 seasons, along with two state championships in Ramseur's junior and senior seasons while he was named to the Associated Press' First-Team All-State team at the linebacker position. He finished his senior season with 160 total stops (55 solo, 105 assists), 10.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and an interception.
Now he's at ECU, on a Pirate defense loaded with experience. Ramseur is usually joined by team captain and senior, Jordan Williams, who has been a staple in this defense since 2014. Williams has finished the last two seasons ranking among the top two tacklers on the team, second in 2015 and first in 2016, and is on pace to finish first again this season. The third linebacker, junior Cannon Gibbs, who is in his first season at ECU after playing at Jones Junior College, currently ranks fourth on the team with 47 tackles, just five more than Ramseur. Sandwiched between Williams and Gibbs are Korrin Wiggins and Devon Sutton, respectively. This experience at linebacker has noticeably expedited Ramseur's ascend to a defensive staple.
"It's a learning experience but it helps me know where I'm supposed to be because they always know where they're supposed to be," Ramseur said. "I'm trying to get my part of the deal and do my job."
Ramseur was redshirted last season after being considered Montgomery's first signee. Maybe getting the chance to refine his skills on the defensive scout team has led to this kind of play, but inside linebacker coach Ryan Anderson credits his play to something else.
"He's got a nose for the ball, that the number one thing," Anderson said. "A lot of times you have to teach players where to go, where to fit, but he's got instincts. That's something you can't teach, you're either born with it or you're not, and he's got it."
So even if this season is a lost cause, the Pirates have a future star to game plan around. Ramseur still has three years of eligibility, and if this season is any sign of things to come, then ECU has a legitimate Dick Butkus Award candidate on its hands. From the man who coaches him closest, Anderson knows what Ramseur is capable.
"The sky's the limit," Anderson said. "He's got all the tools it's just a matter to if he's going to continue to grow into it and get the reps."
Ramseur has three games left in his first collegiate season that will continue this Saturday at home against Tulane. Facing a mediocre offense, Ramseur's career-high 12 tackles looks like it can be upended.