Every year players around the NFL unbox a pair of custom designed cleats for the My Cause My Cleats initiative that allows players to break NFL uniform rules for one game during Week 13 to represent a cause that is near to their heart. While most players unbox a shiny new pair that they sell in an auction after the game, New Orleans Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk will be unveiling ones for a familiar cause to him - ones that he first unboxed last year before he was sidelined with an ongoing knee injury prior to the My Cause My Cleats matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 2, 2021.
The cause of choice for Ramczyk is Jockey Being a Family, an organization that provides post-adoptive services to children and the families that adopt them through a variety of initiatives and donations to non-profit organizations. The non-profit came highly recommended to Ramczyk by his wife, Rochelle, whose parents used the organization as a resource after adopting her sister.
"My sister-in-law Andrea was adopted around age five. She used the program Jockey Being a Family and had nothing but great things to say about it. I also talked to my mother and father-in-law, and they were raving about how they were able to go to different meetings and talk to other parents. Andrea was able to talk to other kids who went through the same thing and it kind of put their mind at ease to kind of know that there's other people going through the same things," Ramczyk said during his unboxing video last year. "Oftentimes that's kind of overlooked as far as having the resources, not only for the kid, but for the parents. Jockey does a great job with some of their services to help both the adoptive parents and the child make a smooth transition."
Aside from the meetings they set up for kids and parents, one of Jockey Being a Family's hallmark program is a backpack donation for adopted kids. Each backpack comes personalized with the kids' initials on them, and they are filled with goodies such as teddy bears and blankets.
"Andrea still has her blanket. Those things that she got obviously meant something to her and special to her, and she still holds on to them to this day. I think that little gift can help give them peace of mind and something comforting in that process," Ramczyk said.
This year Ramczyk will have the opportunity to highlight the organization on national television as he suits up with his custom cleats in a primetime matchup against NFC South foe Tampa Bay on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium.
"I wanted to put Jockey Being Family on my cleats because I think they're doing a great thing and I think it kind of gets shoved under the rug sometimes – the support that the parents and kids need in a difficult transition in their life," Ramczyk said. "I'm looking forward this year to be able to show off the cleats, support Jockey and hopefully I can raise some money for such a good cause."
On Monday night's game, Ramczyk will record his 13th start this season, anchoring an offensive line unit that allowed fellow first-time captain Alvin Kamara to have four back-to-back 100-yards from scrimmage games. The two were voted as team captains by teammates at the beginning of the season to join quarterback Jameis Winston as the offensive representation in the captain's squad.
"It's an extreme honor to be labeled as a captain by the guys in this locker room. It means a lot to me - I take it seriously," Ramczyk said. "But I'm not going to change who I am and how I go about my work. I'm a lead by example guy. I try to do everything the right way."
Leading by example is exactly what he has done the past few seasons, quietly putting up stellar stats in a position where the job description is to help your teammates succeed - and succeed they have. Since being drafted by the Saints in 2017, the powerful tackle has blocked for a unit that has notched the fewest sacks allowed in the league and has empowered Kamara to gain the most yards from scrimmage since both of their rookie years. Ramczyk has also been named AP All-Pro three times, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer William Roaf as only the second Saints tackle to accomplish this prestigious feat.
Yet Ramczyk faces an entirely new challenge this year. A historically successful team, the Saints have faced several tests this season with impactful injuries, including multiple hits to the offensive line. In difficult times people look to the leaders and the "C" badge on the chest takes on a whole new meaning. In response, Ramczyk has taken the task head on, reinforcing the "team is greater than me" mantra that was set at the beginning of the season.
"There's a shared sense of urgency. We need to hold each other accountable," Ramczyk said. "It puts that much more pressure on each other, each individual player. They have to be on top of their game."
His teammates and coaches have taken notice of his lead-by-example leadership style.
Ramczyk's position coach, Doug Marrone, has also sung his praise. "The thing I've been most impressed with … is how technically sound he is in what he does, how much pride he takes in the work that he does," Marrone said during training camp. "He is a player that plays at a high level, has played at a high level, and will continue that way, but he's always looking to see how he can continue to do it better. It's been a great experience for me to be around a player like Ryan and have him have that coachable attitude, which I think is important for the whole group."