Ariana Perez: In the game of life, former Navy football player believes perseverance is key 

Ram Vela and the Navy Midshipmen during the national anthem before the start of a game.

It’s November 3, 2007. Nerves and excitement result in an agitated crowd of football fans standing at the Notre Dame Stadium that is cheering, sweating and anxiously waiting for a final score.

Heads keep turning incessantly between the field and the timer that marks only 45 seconds remaining in regulation. The football bounces from player to player. One quick flying leap over a Notre Dame blocking back…



It’s game over. After 44 years and three overtimes, the Navy Midshipmen finally beat Notre Dame 46-44, ending the Fighting Irish's NCAA-record 43-game win streak against the Midshipmen.


It takes a team. But it also takes the effort of an individual who believes that in the game of life, perseverance is key.

And what brought Ram Vela, now 32, to that field playing for the Naval Academy was something he remembers as fortuitous.

Vela was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, where he lived with his family of Mexican descent. Every time he drove down the street on his way to grab some tacos, seeing the Mexican-themed signs and feeling the ‘tejano’ vibe were enough to make him smile.

Ariana Perez is a freelance contributor who writes about Annapolis. Contact her

Vela had always played sports, football being his favorite one. But like many sophomore high school students at the time, he didn’t have a concrete plan of what the future would be like. At least he thought he didn’t, but someone unbeknownst to him at the time did.

“I received a call from the recruiting football coach at the Naval Academy,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the academy, this history behind the institution or what it stood for so my first answer was no. But he was persistent and kept calling.”

By his senior year in high school, Vela was playing quarterback. Not only was he passionate about it, but he was obviously good at it. With time came the pressure of having to make a decision about the next step in life and Vela had ambitions of continuing to play at the Division I level.

“There are maybe a handful of schools that would be willing to take a bet on a Hispanic quarterback from San Antonio, the challenge was finding that school,” he said. “I realized I didn’t have a lot of options when it came to colleges. And coming from a middle to lower income Hispanic household, not only was it important to go to college, it was important to alleviate any potential financial stress on my parents.”

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As luck (or destiny) would have it, the phone rang again. This time, a ‘no’ turned into a ‘yes’ and over the Christmas holiday break in 2004, Vela was taking an official visit at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, a place that would become his home for a few years. This would also be the place where he would meet his now wife and where his name would leap into Navy immortality.


“’Rudy’ is one of my favorite movies,” he laughed. “I knew that if I went to the Naval Academy, I’d be committing to four years of school and five years as an officer post-graduation. But that commitment comes with a reward, which was free tuition, the chance to play Division I football and a chance to step onto the grass at Notre Dame Stadium. The opportunity to play on that field would be no less than a dream come true.”

Soon after, Vela – who said he didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what he was getting himself into at the time until he went to the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island – noticed that there wasn’t a big representation of Hispanics at the Naval Academy, both in the student body and on the field.

“For the recruiting football coach to find me and not the other way around was pretty uncharacteristic,” he said. “Once I understood the magnitude of it all, I asked myself: What impact can I have? How do I maximize the value of this place to give my family, the Hispanic community and myself a more positive representation? And how do I leave a legacy and not have others question whether I should or shouldn’t have made it there?”

Through hard work, perseverance and persistence, he achieved this. In 2007, at Notre Dame Stadium and in front of more than 80,000 attendees, Vela – a San Antonio native who was once detained after being mistaken for one of “America’s Most Wanted” – would immortalize his name. His proudest achievement? Becoming one of the first to represent his heritage and his city.

“I’m a huge proponent of making the best of every situation because you never truly know what’s around the corner,” he said, adding that he was part of a national diversity campaign commercial shortly after winning the game against Notre Dame. “As a Hispanic, there is an inherent responsibility to best serve the broader community as much or as little as you can. Families, teams and in this case communities, thrive when the collective benefit is prioritized. If other communities are executing on this premise and doing it successfully, there’s no reason why ours shouldn’t either.”

Vela is currently Vice President of Corporate Development and Integration for a Construction Technology company based in Houston.