As a warm summer breeze whipped across Great South Bay and across the turf field at Venetian Shores Park in Lindenhurst during the high school’s annual Green-White scrimmage on Aug. 22, one player stood out like a lighthouse. Kids spotted him from a distance and honed in. They tossed him footballs, hoping he’d make a one-handed grab. They called his name, hoping for acknowledgement by word or by smile. They photo-bombed his media session.
Everybody knows big No. 1, Jeremy Ruckert, the current Bulldog, future Ohio State Buckeye and pride of a tight-knit community.
“There’s no sense trying to keep it low-key. Everybody in town was following my process. After I committed, it seems like the whole town turned into Ohio State fans,” Ruckert said of his recruitment by more than a dozen major colleges that culminated with his July 17 announcement. “They’ve all supported me 100 percent and that’s the greatest part of this whole process. No one told me to pick one school over another. They believed in me that I would make the right decision. There will be a lot more red (one of Ohio State’s colors) around this town then there used to be.”
But that’s for 2018 and beyond. Ruckert’s current primary colors are green and white. His focus is laser-like for his senior season at Lindenhurst where he is pumped to lead the No. 2 seeded Bulldogs to their first Long Island Class I championship. In order to make school history, the 6-5, 238-pound, two-time Newsday All-Long Island selection intends to reprise his multiple-roles story line from last year. “I’ll play wide receiver. I’ll play linebacker. I’ll kick. I’ll punt,” he said. “I have personal goals — to be the best wide receiver in the county, the best linebacker in the county, the best defensive player in the county, the best overall player in the county and to win the Hansen Award — but my main goal is to win one trophy, and that’s the Long Island Championship.”
Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo acknowledges that maximizing Ruckert’s talents in high school isn’t necessarily preparing him for the next level, where Ohio State — and others — recruited him as a tight end. He was ranked No. 1 at the position by several college recruiting outlets — despite not playing the position at Lindenhurst — because of his ability and size. “He’s got the skill set and the determination to be a great tight end at Ohio State,” said Lombardo, who added that while Ruckert won’t do much blocking for the Bulldogs, “We’ll do some different things with him this year, but we certainly want the ball in his hands.”
No wonder. Ruckert, known for his exceptional hands, is the school’s career leader with 161 receptions. Last season he caught 57 passes for 794 yards and seven touchdowns. He also excelled on defense with 50 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions at outside linebacker, kicked 25 extra points and five field goals and was a capable punter when needed.
In Lindenhurst’s 31-7 win over Northport Saturday to open the season, Ruckert caught six passes for 115 yards and two TDs. He also had a sack, forced fumble and kicked a 28-yard field goal.
Ohio State’s coaching staff told Ruckert it was not concerned about him using the high school fields of Suffolk County to learn the tight end position. Nor was he told he couldn’t play baseball, where he is a returning All-County first baseman, or basketball, where he was an All-League forward. In fact the Buckeyes encouraged him to play multiple sports. Ruckert said he likely will skip the basketball season because he is was invited to postseason all-star football games in Hawaii and Texas that would cut into his practice time. But he intends to play baseball.
“Their main focus for me going into my senior year is to be the best Bulldog I can be. Then after my senior year, we’ll worry about being a Buckeye,” Ruckert said of direction he got from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. “Do whatever it takes to help my team win, which is not really playing much tight end but playing out wide more. After the season, I’ll worry about my blocking and getting bigger and pushing myself harder than ever before. There’s a big misconception about college programs. They don’t care what you play in high school. They go by their projections for you. They project me as a tight end but they aren’t going to change what I do here.”
Ruckert said he is well aware that Big Ten football is far more physical than anything he will experience this season. “I know I won’t be able to match the physicality of the next level in Suffolk County high school football,” he said. “At Ohio State I’ll be going against kids who are bigger and faster than me. I’ll have to use playing defense to get physical and try to match that college physicality. Offensively, I’m split out wide and not really getting physical between the tackles.”
Working in Ruckert’s favor is that he is only 16 years old and still growing. He does not have a driver’s license but his football motor has run smoothly and relentlessly since his freshman year when he started at wide receiver and caught both touchdown passes in Lindy’s 14-0 opening game victory. He has never looked back. “Recruiting was a long process but it’s out of the way and a big weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I don’t have to spend time talking to all the college coaches now. I can spend time with my teammates to make my senior season better. I only get one before I go away and start all over again in college. I want to make the most of it.”
But it’s an LIC and not a colelge bowl game that consumes him for now. “We don’t want to just get to the LIC, we want to win it and show that we can compete with anyone and that I’m not just here to play for my college team,” Ruckert said.
Lombardo said Ruckert’s loyalty is genuine. “He wants to win for the Lindenhurst community. His dad’s a Lindenhurst grad. Certainly, he was focused on recruiting and the Ohio State stuff, but he never skipped a beat regarding his leadership of this team,” Lombardo said. “Jeremy handled the accolades and the recruiting process so well. That’s what I’m most proud of. Having an Ohio State recruit is special for this town.”
A town that soon will be painted red.
The Ruckert file
Year Class Rec.YardsAvg.TD
2014 Freshman 44 506 11.5 10
2015 Sophomore 60 830 13.8 7
2016 Junior 57 794 13.9 7