COLUMBUS — The truth is that there aren’t many 5-star tight end prospects who would choose to play college football at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes don’t run a program that is synonymous with tight end productivity, after all. There’s a reason those running jokes about every season being the one Ohio State will start throwing to the tight end exist even around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
That is one of the reasons why the decision by Jeremy Ruckert to attend Ohio State took many recruiting analysts by surprise. For the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Buckeyes sophomore, it made perfect sense.
“Being known as a pass-catcher like everybody would say, but coming here where it’s technically more run-blocking stuff and perimeter blocking, I think it’s just going to help me in the long run,” Ruckert said. “The biggest thing for me when I was getting recruited was that not only do they produce NFL tight ends — the last three or four tight ends they’ve had are still in the league right now, and I think and that was important — but also the fact that they care about us off the field just as much as on the field.
“You know you’re going to be developed in a way to make it to the next level football-wise, but you also know you’re going to be able to have a career afterward and move on.”
Maybe that sounds like recruiting propaganda. But there’s also plenty of truth in there.
And it shows that Ruckert is a guy who has bought into a program completely and is starting to see how it has changed his game for the better in a short amount of time.
“A couple of days ago I watched the film of last camp and of where I am now, and it looks like it’s night and day,” Ruckert said. “I think it was last camp, that’s what it took for me. Obviously, I’m still learning. I think we’re all still learning, you can ask Luke [Farrell] and he’s probably still learning some things. But I think last camp was really the most important time for me, to get my feet wet.”
Ruckert’s feet have never been the problem, to be clear. What kept the highest-ranked tight end signee in program history from playing more as a true freshman was the rest of his game. The upper-body strength. The nuance of being inline blocking. After a year in the Ohio State program, those aspects of his game are starting to catch up.
“I wasn’t scared to throw myself in there and be physical, it was just the fact of being technical with it and using my natural strength and speed in blocking,” Ruckert said. “That’s the biggest thing that [tight ends coach Kevin] Wilson and [Ohio State staffer Tim] Hinton have been stressing to me. I’m not as big and strong as most of the other guys on this team, and there’s no shame in that because I can excel in other ways.
“Last fall camp, it was tough. Coming in and not really being a blocking guy, it was tough to get my feet wet and really see what it takes to be physical at this level. Playing against 21, 22-year-olds being 17 or 18, it was tough. I think it helped me grow so much over this past year. I’ve been getting stronger in the weight room and stronger mentally and working on my technique so much to hang with those guys.”
The extra work Ruckert has put in isn’t going unnoticed by his position coach.
“Ruckert is a sponge, wanting to grow and get better,” Wilson said. “Ruckert loves to practice now. He doesn’t mind going through individual [drills], going through our fundamentals and going through inside drills. Where a year ago, he was a fish out of water.”
Once a big fish in a very small Lindenhurst (N.Y.) pond, Ruckert is getting close to swimming with the monsters in Columbus. He’s embracing life as a Buckeyes tight end, not as a glorified wide receiver beating up on cornerbacks who didn’t usually belong on the field with him.
He’s turning into a complete player now, and that’s a major adjustment for a young kid to make.
“[In high school] they’re basically playing wide receiver,” Wilson said of highly-ranked high prep tight ends. “Now you’re blocking in the perimeter and you have to block Rashan Gary with the game on the line or Chase Winovich. They have to block Chase Young and Nick Bosa — every day that’s who they have to block. And [Jonathon] Cooper, every day. It takes a little bit of time.”
It’s paying off and Ruckert is buying in. He’s even enjoying the chance to work against those All-American type of defensive ends.
“I definitely like it. The inside drill is the most fun part of practice,” he said. “We’re going against the best defensive line and linebackers in the country, and we’re just going it at full speed. It’s kind of fun.”
Maybe this is the year Ohio State starts throwing to its tight ends, maybe it’s not. Either way, Jeremy Ruckert is planning to be a bigger part of the Buckeyes offense, validating his decision to pick the program in the first place.