As Jeremy Ruckert sat at his locker following Ohio State’s 45-24 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 1, he thought back to where he was one year earlier. In his hometown of Lindenhurst, New York, the then-high school senior watched on television as the Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin in the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game.
“You think about it, a year ago today, I was at my house watching this game,” Ruckert said. “So being able to call myself a Big Ten champion, just in my first year, it’s a great experience.”
By winning a conference championship, Ruckert has already accomplished one of the goals he hoped to achieve when he signed with the Buckeyes last December. And after being in Indianapolis and being a part of all the hard work it took for he and his teammates to get there, Ruckert said experiencing the thrill of a Big Ten title was even better than he had dreamed of.
“Everything you see on TV, you see a game, but once you live a whole year of being here and the grind and all the adversity we face, it’s just a great feeling,” Ruckert said.
Ruckert hasn’t seen a lot of playing time in his first season at Ohio State. Despite repeated insistences by head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson that the Buckeyes needed to find ways to get Ruckert more playing time, Ruckert has played only 121 offensive snaps this season – with no more than 10 snaps in any of Ohio State’s last nine games.
He doesn’t hold any ill will about his lack of playing time, though, because he understands that’s part of the process. While he arrived at Ohio State as a highly touted recruit – with Meyer saying last December that “Ruckert might be the best tight end prospect that I’ve ever seen and recruited” – he learned quickly once he landed in Columbus that he had a long way to go in his development.
So instead of being frustrated with Wilson for not giving him more snaps in the rotation, or that he has had to wait his turn behind veteran tight ends Luke Farrell and Rashod Berry, he said he is grateful for them for helping him improve as much he has since he enrolled at Ohio State this summer.
“There’s always room for improvement, but a year ago, if you would have told me that I’d be a complete tight end that’s just going around, throwing his body around and just coming across the line of scrimmage, just knocking people around, I wouldn’t think that’s possible,” Ruckert said. “But you got to give it up to the coaching staff for believing in me. The older guys, Luke and Rashod and Jake (Hausmann), they’ve just been telling me every day, just giving me the tips and every way around it.”
Ruckert, who played primarily as a receiver in high school yet has been used primarily as a blocker in his first season as a Buckeye, also credits director of sports performance Mickey Marotti and the rest of Ohio State’s strength and conditioning staff with helping him develop physically.
“I’ve gained 10 pounds since I’ve been here, I’ve gained a lot of muscle, I’ve gained strength,” said Ruckert, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. “So it’s been a great experience this year, and I can’t wait to keep learning and getting better every single day.”
While it hasn’t materialized into more playing time yet, Wilson is pleased with the progress that Ruckert has demonstrated over the course of his first season.
“Our tight end position’s probably the second-most complicated position on offense, after quarterback. Because we ask them to pass block, we ask them to run block and then we flex them out as receivers,” Wilson said in November. “So it takes Jeremy a little bit of time to get up to speed, to be as good. He’s going to be fine.”
Farrell, the Buckeyes’ top tight end this year, likes what he has seen from his younger counterpart, as well.
“It’s been awesome to see his improvement,” Farrell said in November. “He has been gaining that confidence. He doesn’t really flinch when he gets thrown in there, which is really cool to see as a freshman.”
“There’s always room for improvement, but a year ago, if you would have told me that I’d be a complete tight end that’s just going around, throwing his body around and just coming across the line of scrimmage, just knocking people around, I wouldn’t think that’s possible.”– Jeremy Ruckert on his improvement this season
The biggest thing Ruckert had to learn upon his arrival at Ohio State, he said, was the level of toughness needed to play at the collegiate level. It didn’t take him long to learn that lesson once preseason camp began.
“First couple practices, it was definitely eye-opening,” Ruckert said. “Kind of getting thrown around, I had to throw my body around and get a lot of stronger in the weight room.”
With Wilson, Berry, Farrell and Ohio State’s other coaches and veteran tight ends leading the way, though, Ruckert has learned the ropes quickly. He says Farrell and Berry have been “everything you could ask for coming in as a freshman.”
“They got experience, both of them played last year, and I just came in, wanted to get right under their wing and learn from them,” Ruckert said.
Wilson and the other coaches, meanwhile, have taught Ruckert the importance of working toward team goals instead of focusing on individual statistics.
“They hand-picked us to do a job and being able to do a job in the most capable way,” Ruckert said. “So especially in our tight end room the most, Coach Wilson really stresses it’s about us as a team, and not about individuality. Things might not be going your way, but it’s about how you can help a team in the most impactful way possible.”
As talented as Ruckert is, he’s certainly capable of making more plays as a receiver than he has this season – catching just one pass for 13 yards – and he should get more opportunities in future seasons. But he says he’s focused on doing whatever role his coaches ask of him to the best of his ability, whether that be on offense or special teams, and not dwelling on how many passes (or lack of) are thrown his way.
“I’ve never really been a guy (to set individual goals),” Ruckert said. “I really just want to do whatever I can to help the team, whether it’s catching balls, whether it’s blocking, whether it’s anything.”