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NFL lineman Manny Ramirez embraces being a role model for Hispanic fans

As part of a growing group of Hispanic players in the NFL, Detroit Lions offensive lineman Manny Ramirez relishes his chance to show young Latino athletes they can dream big.

"I take a lot of pride in being a good role model for a lot of the Hispanics, especially the youth, because there are not many of us in this position,'' Ramirez said on TODAY Friday in the latest installment of the "Together We Make Football" series with the NFL.

"Being a Mexican-American allows me to be someone that others look up to. I want to be able to build the foundation for them, for them to believe that no matter what people say, you have an opportunity."

Ramirez grew up in Houston, where his father was a sanitation worker and a roofer and his mother was a roofer and a janitor for his middle school and high school.

He went on to star at Texas Tech, becoming the first member of his family to attend college. The Lions picked him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft.

"If it weren't for football, I wasn't going to be able to go to college, because there was no way we could afford it,'' he said.

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Ramirez then played for the Denver Broncos and made an appearance in the 2013 Super Bowl. He was traded back to the Lions before this season.

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"It all goes back to my parents,'' Ramirez says. "I use them as motivation, as far as what they went through and what they sacrificed for us to be where we're at today."

"It all goes back to my parents,'' he said. "I use them as motivation, as far as what they went through and what they sacrificed for us to be where we're at today."

With the NFL celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in September with a series of special events at this weekend's games, Ramirez recently held a special event for kids from a Detroit neighborhood known as "Mexicantown,'' a vibrant immigrant community since the 1940s.

He not only wanted to help them learn more about the game, but also show them how the football can open doors for them.

"We're real big role models to a lot of Hispanics, especially little kids, and coming where I come from, I take a lot of pride that our parents sacrificed a lot for us to be where we're at today,'' he said.

"Part of them being here with me when I do these types of events, you know that I'm able to bring them with me so they can understand where we come from and who we are."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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