Ohio State junior tight end Jeremy Ruckert, a former Lindenhurst High School star who won Suffolk's Hansen Award in 2017, was celebrating his 20th birthday on Aug. 11 when the Big Ten announced it was postponing the 2020 college football season.
"Not exactly a birthday gift," Ruckert said. "I was crushed. It was so tough to handle at that point after all the hard work and the expectations of a great season. The timing was so bad. I wasn’t happy at all."
That changed on Sept. 16 when the Big Ten changed course and announced it was moving forward with fall sports after safety protocols were put in place.
Ruckert will take the field at noon on Saturday as Ohio State hosts Nebraska, though the atmosphere will be quite different.
"We usually engage with fans and family before the game and do a walk-through of a gymnasium where about 20,000 fans greet us and that won’t happen," he said. "And the stadium won’t be filled with 100,000-plus Buckeye fans. But they are allowing each player to have four guests."
The 6-5, 253-pounder said everything has changed, including gym workouts and conditioning. Those are done alone.
"We get the rapid tests every day at 7 a.m., and we haven’t had a positive case in a couple of months," he said. "We worked so hard to get this train rolling, and we’re just hoping every team is as safety conscious as we are so there are no COVID outbreaks. We could get shut down if another school tests positive. We have to be proactive not reactive during this whole thing."
Ruckert is one of five Long Island football players in the Big Ten.
Two former Newsday All-Long Island selections will meet on Saturday night in Evanston, Illinois, when Maryland visits Northwestern at 7:30 p.m.
Junior offensive guard Ethan Wiederkehr, a three-time Long Island Class IV champion for Shoreham-Wading River, earned the starting job at Northwestern after starting three games as a sophomore last season.
"It’s been a very challenging year for him with the COVID-19 pandemic and undergoing shoulder surgery," said his father, Hans Wiederkehr, who said he will attend the game with his wife, Karen. "We’re so proud of his ability to focus on his goals and get himself healthy. We’ll celebrate that perseverance Saturday night when he takes the field at Northwestern."
Maryland sophomore punter Anthony Pecorella (Malverne, Chaminade HS), who appeared in 11 of 12 games as a freshman, totaled 32 punts for 1,320 yards and a 41.25 average.
"Two Long Island guys facing off in the Big Ten doesn’t happen too often," Pecorella said. "It’s good to see Long Island players doing well at the highest level of college ball."
Pecorella said getting the chance to play is all anyone wanted.
"I think it’s great," he said. "We were shut down in August and were still practicing but really didn’t know what we were practicing for."
"The university is doing a phenomenal job and we do the rapid testing every day," he said. "I know the crowds and the atmosphere will be different, but I don’t care if the stadium is filled as long as my mom and dad are there. Big crowds are fun, but family is more important."
Michigan’s freshman quarterback Dan Villari (Plainedge) has moved into the backup role on the Wolverines' depth chart. The 2019 Thorp Award winner, given to Nassau’s best player, led Plainedge to the LI Class III title.
Wisconsin opened its season Friday night against Illinois. The host Badgers were without starting senior quarterback Jack Coan (Sayville), who is out with a broken right foot. The 2016 Hansen Award winner said he’s optimistic that he’ll be back this season.
"The surgery went well," Coan said, "and the rehab is going very well."