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Cesar Ruiz has decided to leave Michigan with a year of eligibility remaining to begin training for the NFL Draft, which means the Wolverines must replace four starting offensive lineman next season.

He announced his move Friday on social media, thanking Michigan fans, teammates and his coaches.

“I would like to thank coach (Ed) Warinner for helping me become the best player I can be,” Ruiz wrote. “Coach (Josh) Gattis, thank you for everything you’ve done; our bond can’t be broken.

“Since the day I touched a football I knew I wanted to play in the National Football League. It’s always been my dream, and now I am ready to make my dream a reality.”

Ruiz, who has said he was “born to play center,” was a two-year starter at center and made five starts at right guard his freshman year. Warinner, UM's offensive line coach, has praised Ruiz’s “football IQ” and ability as a leader anchoring the line.

His departure leaves a huge hole in the offensive line that must now replace four starters – left tackle Jon Runyan, left guard Ben Bredeson and right guard Michael Onwenu have all exhausted their eligibility. Backup offensive lineman Stephen Spanellis announced Wednesday night he has entered the transfer portal. Andrew Vastardis could be in line to take over at center.

The only returning starter is right tackle Jalen Mayfield, who was in a tight competition for the job with Andrew Stueber, who suffered a torn knee ligament before the start of the season. Mayfield was a first-year starter.

Following a practice a few days before Michigan’s appearance in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, Ruiz was asked whether he had made a decision about his future.

“That’s not really important to me right now,” Ruiz said. “We’re focused on winning this game. After this game, me and my family will talk to coach and will make a decision from there. But right now, we’re worried about this game and worried about beating Alabama.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last season raved about Ruiz’s understanding of the game and how that had improved, and Ruiz said he has seen his growth as a player. The 6-foot-4, 319-pound Ruiz has been projected to be selected in the third, fourth or fifth round, according to several NFL draft analysts.

“I feel like my game has evolved a lot,” Ruiz said before the bowl game. “From freshman year starting guard to now, I feel like I’ve matured a lot, made a lot of improvements in my game, switched back to my normal position. I just feel like I’ve improved and matured a lot, been able to take a lot of responsibility and become more of a leader.”

Michigan averaged 150.7 rushing yards per game this season to rank 77th nationally. Michigan's offensive line gave up 1.92 sacks per game, tied for 58th in the nation.

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