• Invitation Oxford

You Gotta Believe

Former Ole Miss players Robert and John Ratliff lead a star-studded staff at a football camp for Mississippi youths.

Written by Michael Newsom | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Brothers John and Robert Ratliff were budding football players in Fort Worth, Texas, in

2003 when their father and football coach, Bobby Ratliff, died from cancer.

Bobby Ratliff was passionate about coaching and working with kids. Throughout his life he had always kept a positive attitude, using the mantra, “You gotta believe.”

In 2007, his sons, who were then attending Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School, were

determined to do something to help area kids learn the game. They knew their dad would want them to pass on their love of the game to others. When Robert was a senior and John was a freshman, they founded You Gotta Believe Football Camp for third- to 12th-graders, along with their friend Alec Mullarkey.

John Ratliff, a wide receiver who lettered at Ole Miss in 2013 and 2014 and co-executive director of YGB, said the camps not only allow kids to experience the joy of football in its purest form but also offer the chance to learn from the pros: including local heroes like former Ole Miss greats Cody Core, Donte Moncrief and others.

“They’ve watched these guys every Saturday on TV,” John said. “It becomes real when they realize they are just normal people with some of the same struggles and may be from the same background and have been successful. That’s my favorite part of it. It’s them taking pure joy in the purest form of football.”

Robert Ratliff said the kids learn the important fundamentals of the game, and there is also a

faith-based component to the learning there. He calls the camp “two of the most fun days of the year.”

“There is nothing better than seeing a kid who comes to camp unable to catch the football, but

then at the end of camp, after working hard, that same camper is able to run a crisp route and

catch the ball,” Robert said. “Most importantly, these coaches do a phenomenal job

teaching these young men the importance of never giving up, always believing and chasing all your dreams.” 

A few years after they founded YGB, the brothers were spending their Saturdays in Vaught-

Hemingway Stadium as walk-ons on the Ole Miss Rebels football team. Robert was a backup

quarterback, and John, a backup wide receiver. The two were known for their work ethic on the Rebel squads, but NCAA rules prevented them from holding their football camps while

competing in college athletics.

Robert Ratliff led Nolan to two state championships as a quarterback, notching 83 touchdown

passes and 13 touchdowns. He played quarterback at Sewanee University as a freshman in 2009, but walked on at Ole Miss and played for four years. At Ole Miss, he was heavily relied on as a backup quarterback who coaches depended on to relay calls to players. He saw action on the field in three games as a senior in 2013, and stayed on as an offensive graduate assistant on the coaching staff in 2014 and 2015.

The brothers fell in love with the state of Mississippi during their time in Oxford, and in 2015, after their playing days had ended, they started holding YGB camps at Jackson Academy. The Ratliffs have deep connections to their former teammates and a broad network of professionals, and they have built an impressive roster of coaches for YGB each year. This year’s camp ran July 8-9 and attracted nearly 300 young athletes from around Mississippi to learn from several former Ole Miss and current NFL football players.

“Our main focus is that we’re not a camp that has these players just make an appearance and sign some autographs,” John said. “These players are the ones who coach these positions. Getting trained from a former NFL or college player is a unique experience.”

Former Ole Miss star and current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Mike Hilton was one of the coaches this year. Hilton, who is known for his leadership and tenacity on the field, said he enjoys showing the campers nothing is impossible.

“I do it to help the kids reach their full potential and become better players,” Hilton said. “I also can’t forget to give back because we were put in this position to do so. YGB is different because of how faith-related the camp is. You have to understand that God put you in these situations because you’re blessed, and you have to be thankful for the blessings.”

Former Ole Miss wide receiver Cody Core, who made some big plays for the Rebels, and is now a Cincinnati Bengal, said he’s enjoyed working with the kids because they progress year-to-year.

“I enjoy YGB year-to-year because I get to see the growth that kids learn from day one to day two,” Core said. “I do it because I love meet and teach the kids and build relationships for the next year. With all of the different athletes on staff, having the passion to succeed makes YGB a great learning experience that will last forever.”

Former Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox played quarterback in high school and was lightly

recruited. He walked on at Ole Miss, but got bigger and stronger and became a tight end who

showed a penchant for stretching the field. Big plays in college and a strong work ethic led to

Knox being selected by the Buffalo Bills in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft.

Ahead of the camp, Knox said he was excited about coaching at YGB because he remembers

how much he benefited from camps.

“I remember certain coaches who encouraged me as a young player and how much fun I had

running around and learning how to play the game,” Knox said. “I’m excited to give a little

something back to the Mississippi community, and I can’t wait to get out there and work with

these kids.”

For more information, visit ygbfootball.org.

2019 YGB Coaches

Among those who coached the YGB camp this year were: former Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers; former Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram of the New York Giants; former Ole Miss wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, of the Baltimore Ravens; Senquez Golson, formerly of the Oakland Raiders; as well as former Ole Miss football players Jordan Ta’amu, Javon Patterson Ryan Buchanan, Will Martin, Talbot Buys, Charlie Scott, Jordan Holder, Will Denny, Andrew Ritter, Nathan Noble and Shawn Rawlings.



Oxford, Mississippi | United States

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