Jeremy Ruckert isn’t taking his last week as a member of the Ohio State football team for granted.
On Tuesday, Ruckert was full of smiles walking to practice, as he was donning a jersey different from his usual No. 88: No. 13, the number of fellow tight end Gee Scott Jr., as the pair did a jersey swap to keep things loose during Ruckert’s last week of practice with the Buckeyes.
On Wednesday, Ruckert was back to wearing No. 88 for practice and locked into ending his collegiate career with a Rose Bowl victory against Utah on Saturday.
“It means a lot,” Ruckert said of playing for the Buckeyes one final time. “Coach (Ryan) Day has talked a lot about the traditions and expectations to play in the Rose Bowl and all the people who came before you. It was a big decision, and playing in this game, it's the Rose Bowl. And I don't want to leave off with a bad note, as we (lost to Michigan) in the last game. I'm excited to play in the Rose Bowl and I'm excited to play against Utah.”
While the senior opted in to playing with his team against Utah, four other Buckeyes decided to opt out: Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Haskell Garrett. Ruckert said he respects the decision of his teammates to get a jump start on their NFL draft preparations, but felt it would be special playing in the Rose Bowl.
“Just be with the guys for another month and leave with a strong, good note with the team,” Ruckert said regarding his decision to play. “For me I wanted to go out on the right note with a bunch of my guys and have one more time putting on the uniform. And the fact that it's the Rose Bowl is very special. That's really what went into it for me.”
Ruckert caught 23 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season. By his own admission, he left a few plays out on the field, and his on-field performance didn’t come without setbacks. He’s still happy, though, that he chose to return to Ohio State for his senior season.
“There's definitely some things I looked back on and wish I had done some things differently,” Ruckert said. “But I don't regret anything. I don't regret the situation to come back or anything I've done.
“But as far as going back and making plays, what I could have done in a game, there's a few that stick out. But personally just another year of the strength program and getting around the guys was important for me. I just wanted to enjoy this last year. Definitely had a great time with these guys. Now that we're here, enjoying the bowl trip, and going out the right way is the forefront of my mind right now.”
With Olave and Wilson not playing, there is potential for Ruckert to see more passes come his way than usual in Pasadena. Ryan Day said Monday that Ohio State will need Ruckert to step up, and offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson mentioned Ruckert as a potential player that could be a bigger part of the offense against Utah when he spoke with reporters Wednesday.
If Ruckert catches a touchdown in the Rose Bowl, he would tie Jake Stoneburner’s record for the most touchdown catches by a tight end in Ohio State history. He isn’t setting any expectations regarding how many targets he will get against Utah, however.
“Hopefully if it comes my way I'll be able to make a play,” Ruckert said. “And we've been training for that this whole month, some opportunities might open up. But at the end of the day just treat it like another game and just play every play individually and not think ahead. And hopefully we'll come out on top and end it the right way.”
Ruckert will be missed in the tight ends room next year. Cade Stover has practiced with OSU’s linebackers this week, and the Buckeyes could look to add a tight end through the transfer portal – they already made a run at former Oklahoma tight end Austin Stogner before he committed to South Carolina – with Ruckert departing. His play aside, his coaches will miss his leadership skills.
“I see in my world over there Jeremy Ruckert, and I see Jeremy grabbing Joe (Royer) after a play and saying, ‘Hey man, the next time that linebacker does that, lean into him a little bit more, snap out a little bit more,’” Wilson said. “Those are things I see because I'm working with Jeremy.”
But Ruckert’s career isn’t over yet, at least not for another few days, and not without donning the Scarlet and Gray one final time.
“Just looking back on my time here and all the work we've put in and how hard it was, it just makes you realize how blessed you are to be here and truly appreciate the time and this last game we're about to play,” Ruckert said.