Ramsey grew up in Hastings, Florida and attended Hastings High School, where he won state championships in his first two years. He moved to live with an uncle in Camden, New Jersey and play for the Camden High School football team, which went 2-8 in his junior year and won the New Jersey state championship in his senior year.
Ramsey was a quarterback and tight end at the University of Kentucky, where he was part of the team that won the 1976 SEC Championship and the 1976 Peach Bowl. He was first team All SEC and third-team All-American as QB in 1977 when Kentucky finished with a 10-1 record and #6 ranking in the final AP poll. Ramsey also played two games on the basketball team as a walk-on in 1976. 
↑ 2.02.1"Derrick Ramsey to head Labor Cabinet under Bevin". Associated Press State Wire. December 2, 2015.
↑Hitchner, Emelia. "Catching up with a hometown hero", The St. Augustine Record, June 26, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2019. "'By going to Camden, we thought that opportunity would be afforded to me,' Ramsey said. 'And it was.' While playing at Camden High School, Ramsey added another high school football championship to his resume in 1974."