Cesar Ruiz gets a kayak assist from Maurive Hurst while the team enjoys Ninfe Beach on Lake Albano. Angelique Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor – Michigan freshman offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz learned to be independent after he transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., from his New Jersey home just before his junior season.
That experience the last two years helped prepare Ruiz, the nation’s top-ranked center coming out of high school, make a smooth transition to Michigan when he arrived in January as an early enrollee. The football, however, is at a different level.
“My transition from IMG, schedule-wise, easy. Football-wise, things picked up a lot,” Ruiz said Saturday after the youth camp at Michigan. “Meetings were way faster. I had to take a lot of notes, make sure I was on everything. Make sure I was on top of my game 24/7. The game got a lot faster. Not a lot of time for mistakes. Things picked up quick. Everyone is faster and stronger than you are when you first get there. It definitely picked up a lot for me when I got here.”
Ruiz has spent much of his time studying and understanding the playbook while dropping nearly 30 pounds by focusing on nutrition and 6 a.m. workouts. He said he’s become stronger.
He arrived at 345 pounds and is now at 317 with 315 as his goal.
“Coach wants me to play wherever I feel comfortable, but right now this is where they want me to stay,” he said. “When it comes to conditioning, even stretching (now), I feel more loose and flexible and conditioned.
“You definitely feel faster when you lose a lot of weight. I felt different in the beginning of the spring to the end of the spring. I felt myself getting faster, even stronger and more comfortable.”
And he has become more comfortable with the playbook these past few months. He credits several teammates, including sophomore defensive lineman Rashan Gary – they are friends from New Jersey – and many of the older offensive linemen for helping him on all football fronts.
“There are still some times I get mixed up and have a couple of brain farts, but I’m really comfortable with the playbook right now,” Ruiz said. “The seniors and upperclassmen have really been helping me out a lot with it too. I’m still studying the playbook every night and making sure I know everything.
“I was already close with Rashan and everybody from Jersey when I got here, so when it came to working out and doing extra work on our own during the discretionary periods, I was always with Rashan, always doing extra work early in the morning. He really helped me out conditioning-wise and just staying in shape. When it came to the playbook, Grant Newsome, Pat Kugler, Mason Cole, the older guys, they really helped me out with the playbook and terminology and got me real comfortable with everything.”
Newsome, who suffered a knee injury last fall that will keep him out of the 2017 season, as well, has been particularly helpful to Ruiz. He often gives Ruiz random tests to regarding the playbook, and he texts him to about different plays to make sure he’s up to speed.
With senior Mason Cole, who played center last season and is expected to be back at left tackle this fall, being a leader this year, the linemen recently have moved from meeting twice a week to three times a week.
“He’s really strict about that,” Ruiz said.
The linemen go over plays and study defenses. With three starters gone from last season, Cole and sophomore Ben Bredeson are the only veterans returning. The meetings are meant to give them a head start on the season.
“To make sure by the time camp comes around everyone is on the same page,” he said.
Ruiz will practice some at guard and at center. He doesn’t think much about being the No. 1 player in the country at center, nor does he dwell on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh during the team’s trip to Italy telling him he could become one of the great centers in program history.
“When I hear things like that, I don’t let it affect me much, but I’m aware of it,” Ruiz said. “It’s up to me to make that true. I’m just still working hard and doing what I have to do to make that statement true.”