The NFL Scouting Combine is the world’s longest and strangest job interview. Prospective NFL players are put through the strangest of paces, from measurements to athletic testing through interviews and media sessions. This process can often work to remove the humanity from these players, who like so many other college aged people are just trying to find their way in the big world.
Michigan center Cesar Ruiz has a way of reminding you, very quickly, about the humanity behind the prospect.
The story is a familiar, yet sad one. When Ruiz was growing up in Camden, New Jersey, he lost his father at just eight years old. His father, Cesar Edwin Ruiz, had pulled over on the shoulder of Route 55 to help a driver change a flat tire. While doing that, a car struck Edwin and the stranded driver.
Edwin was pronounced dead on the scene.
But the memory of his father is not far from Ruiz’s mind, and it certainly was not far from his mind on Wednesday morning when speaking with the media:
“This whole entire experience is dedicated to [my dad], that whole situation and that tragedy. Every night, every day I think about it. If my dad was here to see what I’m doing right now, he’d be mind-blown. I’m still playing for my dad. I still play for my dad. My dad still lives through me, and that’s how it’s always going to be.”
When it comes to how Ruiz views those events, the fact that his father was acting as a good samaritan also lingers with him:
“That’s what I pride myself on. Doing things for people, being a good person. The fact that the way it happened, he was doing something good, he was being a good person. You wouldn’t want it any other way if something were to happen like that.”
Beyond Ruiz the person, Ruiz the football player is also something to behold. While the Michigan center might be flying belong the draft radar at the current moment, expect that to change as more and more people dive into his film. Ruiz prides himself on the leadership aspect of playing center, and what he was asked to do in Michigan’s offense. When he was asked about making all the calls in the Michigan offense, Ruiz detailed what that meant and how that might help him in the pre-draft process:
“I believe [the whiteboard] is a place where I have excelled a little bit, in my formal interviews. It is my ability to remember plays and reiterate plays on the whiteboard, and the way I’m able to describe my film, is one of the things I am able to impress teams on.”
And for why he loves playing center:
“I’m in charge. I’m in charge of the whole show. So if something goes wrong, I take the heat for it. If things are going good, I take the shine for it as well.”
The Combine is a great opportunity for Ruiz to pair his athleticism and strength with the versatility he showed on film during his career at Michigan:
“I’m just looking forward to showing coaches, you know, how good I can really move, how much I’ve improved since my three years at Michigan, and I just want to really work...I believe I excel at a lot of different things, a lot of agility drills, a lot of the pulling drills. A lot of different drills that involve a lot of lateral movement, I think I’ll excel at those.”
Ruiz’s versatility, having played both guard and center at Michigan, coupled with his leadership and experience, are big reasons while the Michigan lineman is moving up draft boards. More and more mock drafts and projections are putting him into the first round, but while Ruiz agrees that such accolades are nice, the work is not done yet. “That’s always great, but projections are always projections, and I’ve got to make that happen. It’s good to see it, it gives me a good idea of where I stand, but I try to stay out of that stuff.”
But to ask Ruiz, he is for sure a first rounder. Why? “Because if you look at the film, if you look at how I dominate people, if you look at my character, how smart I am, I have everything for a first-rounder and I am very confident in myself that I am a first rounder.”
As for whether that NFL future begins in New England, Ruiz’s leadership and versatility will make him attractive to the New England coaching staff. He has already taken part in an informal meeting with the Patriots — including Dante Scarnecchia — and has more formal interviews schedule later this week with a number of teams.
In the end, however, it does come back to his father, the widowed mother that raised him, and the lessons of loss. He played the sport because his mom wanted him to get out of the house, and playing football was a “really therapeutic thing” for him. When asked what his father would say to him right now, Ruiz had a wonderful response: “I don’t even know. He’ll probably be somewhere smiling at me same way I’m smiling at him, just telling me how proud is of me. I know my mom’s proud of me. I’m proud of myself, so I know my father would be extremely proud of me.”
Mark Schofield is in Indianapolis all week to cover the combine for Pats Pulpit. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter @markschofield.