ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Expectations are high for Michigan freshman Cesar Ruiz.
Weeks away from the start of the 2017 season — a Sept. 2 meeting with Florida in Arlington, Texas — the 6-foot-3, 317-pound offensive lineman has already been heavily praised by teammates, coaches, and other staff members.
Coach Jim Harbaugh recently said that Ruiz could be one of the next great Wolverine centers.
“When I hear things like that, I don’t really let that affect me much — but I know, and I’m aware of it,” Ruiz said during a recent youth camp at UM. “It’s just something that’s spoken into the air; it’s up to me to make that true. I’m still working hard and doing what I have to do in order to make that statement true.”
The former 4-star recruit — and No. 1-ranked center of 2017, per 247Sports — realizes that he’s in position to secure a prominent role in the trenches. Now that they’re without All-Big Ten standouts Erik Magnuson (RT), Kyle Kalis (RG) and Ben Braden (LG), the Wolverines will need reinforcements. Ruiz is an obvious candidate to provide them.
“No pressure at all. Just going to take coaching, be coachable — and just do what I have to do, make sure I do everything right in order to get on the field,” he said.
Despite “a couple of brain farts,” the former IMG Academy (Fla.) standout has comfortably absorbed the playbook. Veterans such as Mason Cole — who has started at left tackle and center during his three-year career — and Patrick Kugler, a reserve lineman, have gone out of their way to help Ruiz adapt to the new terminology.
Grant Newsome, who suffered a life-threatening leg injury in 2016, has flip-flopped from starting left tackle to student-coach. He has become an invaluable resource for Ruiz, giving him rides to and from practice, text messages, phone calls… and whatever else that has been needed.
“He’s a leader,” Ruiz said of Newsome.
During the past three years, the Wolverines have recruited as well as anyone in the Big Ten. As a result, handfuls of true freshmen have been slotted into the schemes. They have flourished, too.
For some the transition can be a challenge. Going from high school to one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States isn’t always easy for the new guys.
However, one year at IMG — a renowned athlete-producing academy — provided a quick lesson on the big-time for Ruiz.
“I didn’t really have a rough transition coming in (here) in January, because I was just so used to the schedule,” Ruiz said. “Like at IMG, my schedule was exactly how it is now, so it definitely prepared me (for life at UM). Just my overall feelings of being here… it’s been amazing. I just love being here.”
All of that was an easy turn for Ruiz, who previously attended Camden High in Camden, N.J.
In terms of football, though?
“Things picked up a lot. The meetings were way faster (snaps fingers), and I had to take a lot of notes and make sure I was on everything,” he said. “Just make sure I’m top on my game 24/7. The game has gotten a lot faster. You know, there’s not a lot of time for mistakes, just a lot of things picked up quick — everyone is faster and stronger than you are when you first get there.”
Upon arrival, Ruiz weighed in at 345 pounds. Today, he’s down to 317 — a 28-pound reduction. Better eating habits and concentrated workouts have paid dividends. Waking up at 6 a.m. and dieting, he said — there was no big secret or special way of doing things.
“When it comes to conditioning and even stretching and different things like that, I just feel more loose and flexible,” he added.
He can give Michigan much-needed flexibility in the upcoming 2017 season.
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