JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Just before he was born, Peyton Ramsey’s parents were watching a Tennessee football game, a Volunteers team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Ramsey’s dad, a high school football coach liked the quarterback and Ramsey’s mom liked the name.
Ramsey and his brothers are all named after quarterbacks. His older brother, Montana, is named after Joe Montana and younger brother, Drew, after Drew Bledsoe. It’s a football family through and through.
“It just kind of exudes the family that he comes from,” IU head coach Tom Allen. “They love football. It’s a big part of their family. They obviously talk about it a lot and watch it a lot and it’s been manifested in the names that they have for their kids. That’s pretty cool.”
And after a year in which he changed his own legacy, Peyton Ramsey is about to face the alma mater of his namesake.
Through two years of disappointment as a team, losing to Purdue in the final week of the season to fall short of bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons, Ramsey faced his own personal adversity.
The story of Ramsey’s season keeps building with each passing week. From the hard conversation he had with Allen as he lost his starting job from a year before to preparing like the starter each week anyway. That mindset had Ramsey ready whenever he was needed with Michael Penix’s multitude of injuries.
“The way his season started and the way he’s been able to display so much grit and leadership and toughness and character through not being named the starter, and then coming back and being the guy and leading this football team to the Gator Bowl,” Allen said.
And when Penix was ruled out for the remainder of the season, it was Ramsey that got IU to bowl eligibility, that scored the game-winning touchdown to win the Old Oaken Bucket back and sitting as one of five team captains in the team room of TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville just a day before the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
His season, stepping in at a time of need and changing his own legacy, showed his team the kind of quarterback and leader it had. But it too showed Ramsey a lot about himself, qualities that hadn’t been there in seasons past. IU wouldn’t be here without them.
“I think I’ve learned that I’m a fighter and that just continuing to fight through adversity is the biggest thing,” Ramsey said. “I didn’t really know how I was going to respond. It was hard initially. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions, but I just learned that I’m a fighter and that tough guys win, and as long as you’re a tough guy and you keep fighting, then good things are going to happen.”
Ramsey spoke about the upperclassman sitting alongside at Wednesday’s press conference. They’ve all been at IU through the ups and downs of the last five years, from Pinstripe and Foster Farms bowls to sitting at home the last two Decembers.
Ramsey was among fifth-year seniors who have helped set up the program for this season. The ones who stayed on through a coaching change.
“I think it says a lot about the guys that are sitting up front here and the older guys that are in that locker room that have gone through the growing pains, and continue to fight and push forward, even though it was hard and tough, and the leaders kind of stepped up and pushed us forward, kind of propelled us forward,” Ramsey said.
"Mike, Will, and Sam"@CoachAllenIU loves the fact Peyton Ramsey's 'Football name' comes from Tennessee legend, Peyton Manning.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 1, 2020
But Ramsey became a part of that leadership group too, even if he didn’t say it. That’s why he was named a captain near the end of the season. He changed his own narrative from the maligned quarterback of stagnant offenses to the steady leader bringing Indiana to its biggest game in decades.
Playing under offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer brought out the best of Ramsey’s abilities. Ramsey was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2019, and a Manning Award Star of the Week twice for his performances against Nebraska and Purdue — quite fitting in fact.
He’s why IU’s at the Gator Bowl, on national television, against the school where his namesake made a legend of his own. Playing Peyton Manning’s school only means so much to Ramsey. It wasn’t something he addressed during his press conference. It only means so much, if anything, to him. It never mattered to him what school IU would play.
Everything from this season — the heartbreak of losing the starting job to the celebration uncommon for the normally stoic Ramsey — all led up to this. Penix will be back next season and there is no clear next game for Ramsey. After what he’s proven he means to IU all season, the Gator Bowl is his chance to show more than just the Big Ten. His future isn’t clear, but he’ll always prepare just the same way he’s prepared for this one. It’s the way his namesake always would.