Jeremy Ruckert rarely drops a pass, but he couldn’t help but drop a few names when asked about his summer college tour.
“When I visited Ohio State, Urban Meyer let me hoist up the (2014) national championship trophy, kiss it, put on the rings. That was real cool. Obviously it turned my head,” said the 6-5, 225-pound junior wide receiver/linebacker/kicker who already has turned a lot of college coaches’ heads. Meyer and others envision Ruckert getting even bigger and stronger and being a tight end in their programs. And they are rushing to make scholarship offers.
Here’s another name that Ruckert dropped into the conversation regarding a week-long July journey that included a couple of college football camps and visits to eight prominent universities. One of them was defending national champion Alabama. “The best part was working out, catching a couple of balls, making a couple of big plays and having coach (Nick) Saban tell me, ‘Come up to my office for a few minutes. I want to speak with you,’” Ruckert said. “I just went in his office with my family and was chilling with him. We had a good conversation for about 15 minutes.”
Yes, the big-time college football programs have discovered Ruckert, a 6-5, 225-pound versatile talent who was a Newsday All-Long Island first-team choice last fall as a sophomore, and had drawn scholarship offers from 30 schools before deciding to curtail the madness during the summer. He tweeted his thanks to all the schools that had shown interest, said he is not ending the recruiting process but for now, has narrowed his choices to these 13, a list he alphabetizes in his head in order to tell those who ask: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
“Every one of those schools gives me a great education and every one of them has a great football team,” Ruckert said. “My biggest thing is what are they going to do to put me in a position to get successful after football? Obviously it doesn’t last forever. Wherever I go, there’s going to be competition. I’m going to have to work my butt off no matter what. I’m not afraid of competition. I have confidence in my ability.”
It is that ability — and versatility — that presents a challenge to Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo. His Bulldogs are the No. 2 seed in Suffolk I, but with the graduation of second-team All-Long Island quarterback Ryan Hoffman, Lombardo must find different ways to get Ruckert the ball.
“He’s got a unique ability. He can play outside; he can play inside. We’re going to put him in many different positions because he can do that,” Lombardo said. “He can stretch the field. His size is a mismatch for many cornerbacks. He’s got above average speed for high school and he’s got incredible ability to catch the ball. He’s a great route-runner. He’s a kicker and plays outside linebacker. His athletic ability allows us to put him in many different positions and we will move him around. You’ll see him a little bit at tight end, but it doesn’t suit our offense to use him there too often.”
Ruckert caught 60 passes for 830 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He also made 50 tackles, including two sacks, blocked three kicks, booted six field goals and converted 27 of 30 extra points. “I love everything,” said Ruckert, also emerging as a team leader both vocally and by example. “I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win. I won’t get off the field so I’ve worked hard to get in shape.”
He called his experiences with big-time college coaches “a little overwhelming, but I’ve got great support from family, friends and coaches and that helps a lot. It’s surreal.”
But Ruckert’s rising status as a big-time college recruit is very real. The coaches are dropping his name.