FLORHAM PARK. N.J. — Old photos of Jeremy Ruckert wearing Jets gear as a little boy growing up in Lindenhurst are all over social media, getting huge numbers of retweets and likes.
On Friday, Ruckert put on his Jets helmet and his No. 89 jersey for the first time, capping a week he said was hard to put into words.
“It was surreal,” Ruckert said. “I put on the fake fan-bought stuff when I was a kid the whole time. Just dreaming about this moment, dreaming about maybe one day being this player I am right now, and to finally do it for the real deal, it means a lot.”
Ruckert’s dream of being a Jet became a reality when they drafted him in the third round April 29. The former Ohio State tight end reported for the Jets’ rookie minicamp Friday excited and still wrapping his head around the past seven days.
He used to go to Jets games in the Meadowlands and said he admired a bunch of players, including Leon Washington, Darrelle Revis and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a Freeport native. He has spoken with Washington, a Jets special team assistant.
“I was a fan my whole life,” Ruckert said. “It’s pretty surreal to be here.”
The 6-5, 250-pound Ruckert is very driven. He said he chose Ohio State because he wanted to learn how to become a complete player, someone his coaches and team can rely on in all situations.
A star at Lindenhurst High School, Ruckert said he didn’t do any blocking “at all” until college. He had only 54 catches in four years as a Buckeye — a team loaded at wide receiver — but became what Jets coach Robert Saleh described as “an absolute bulldog in the run game.”
Ruckert, 21, was self-motivated to learn how to block and excel in that role. It took a lot of work, training and help from coaches and teammates, but he became the player he wanted to be.
“I hated the idea of not being able to do a job that the coach wanted me to do,” Ruckert said. “From my first moment trying to go against [teammates] Nick Bosa and Chase Young and guys like that, I was getting killed. I couldn’t touch those guys. I wanted to be developed. I wanted to get tough. I wanted to learn fundamentals and what it takes to be a complete tight end. I wanted to be that guy that could play every down at tight end.”
The Jets suddenly have a deep and talented tight end room after signing C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and drafting Ruckert. They see Ruckert carving out a role for himself in the passing game as well as in run situations.
Saleh called Ruckert an “all-around tight end” and mentioned his name in the same sentence as 49ers All-Pro George Kittle, who developed into an elite pass receiver in the NFL after not being utilized much in college. Saleh loves Ruckert’s mentality in the running game.
“You just have to be the guy that’s willing to go until the echo of the whistle,” Saleh said. “He will strain his tail off to do his job. That’s what makes him pretty good in the run game. It’s a mentality when you get down in there. I think he’s got that.”
Ruckert said it all comes from his upbringing and credits his family for instilling a mentality of never settling, being aggressive and always challenging yourself. He also learned about being loyal. He said he had the opportunity to go to parochial schools but wanted to attend Lindenhurst like his father did.
“I just wanted to stick to where I grew up and the town that I grew up in,” Ruckert said. “I had a sense of pride. Everything I do, I have pride in it. That just goes along with now that I’m here: This is where I grew up, this is the team I grew up rooting for. They’re going to get everything I got.”