A year ago, Darvin Ruise was a 218-pound high school triple option quarterback. Today, he's a 230-pound college outside linebacker.
"In high school we ran like the Georgia Tech offense, a veer offense and in the offseason I kind of got in the weight room, got a little bit bulky," Ruise said. "My high school coach talked about 'I think maybe they're gonna put you at linebacker.' I came down here and they put me at linebacker. Whatever can help the team, that's what I'm gonna do. Whatever spot they put me at, that's where I want to play."
Ruise was recruited by the Yellow Jackets to continue his days on the offensive side of the ball. But he chose Missouri and has quickly shot up the depth chart. Mizzou is expected to release an updated depth this afternoon, but Ruise has been working with the second-team defense the last few days of practice.
"If everything plays out in my favor, hopefully I'll be able to play a little bit this year. Maybe some special teams or even work on the defense at that second spot," Ruise said. "It's in God's hands and the coach's hands and I'm staying humble. Gonna play my game and see how it plays out."
There is precedent for a player going from quarterback to linebacker. You just have to go back a ways.
"I remember Jack Lambert was a quarterback in high school and he made a pretty good linebacker," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, a teammate of Lambert's at Kent State. "That would be nice if he could follow in his footsteps."
"No, I can't remember him," Ruise said with a nervous chuckle, just in case it was a name he should know. "I'm a baby, man, I'm only 18 years old."
Instead, the Tigers are hoping Ruise can follow the career path of a more recent linebacking success. The Baker County, FL, product wears No. 12. That jersey was freed up when Sean Weatherspoon became a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons last April.
"That's kind of been the talk of the town here lately me wearing Sean's number," Ruise said. "He's a good guy. It's an honor to wear his number."
Weatherspoon entered the first game of his freshman season as a backup linebacker. He contributed mostly on special teams during the 2006 season, but became a starter and an all-Big XII player as a sophomore on Missouri's Cotton Bowl team in 2007. Ruise isn't looking quite that far ahead just yet.
"I'm just gonna play my game, hopefully my game takes over and I'll be an asset to the group and fit in," he said. "Hopefully I do me and that shines."
Ruise is not the only unexpected Tiger freshman threatening to toss his redshirt aside and see the field. Cornerback E.J. Gaines has gotten some reps with the second team as well and is challenging for playing time already.
"He's doing a lot of good things, he really is," Pinkel said. "So many things go into the equation when you use a player. It has to do with your depth, it has to do with maturity, I think I've gone through all those thinngs. He's certainly got the potential to be a really, really high level player. That's exciting."
Gaines said he is not focusing on seeing the field this season. At least, not yet.
"Whenever you come in, you've always got to come out and expect to compete. You never know what's going to happen, so I just come out and try to compete with all the other guys regardless of whether they're freshmen, sophomore, junior or senior," said the Fort Osage, MO product. "Everybody does come in wanting to play, but redshirting's not a bad thing. If I do end up redshirting, it's fine. I won't be mad about it at all."
But Gaines' position coach doesn't exactly sound like a man willing to wait to see what the freshman can do.
"E.J.'s got some stuff in him and that gives him a little bit of a lead. We're not sure yet what we're going to do with him yet, but he's real, real close and no doubt he stands out in practice every day," Cornell Ford said. "He's a naturally physical football player and that gives him the chance to come out here. Now it's just a matter of playing faster. He's still kind of thinking a little bit and once he gets the game plan down and gets the technique down, look out. He's gonna be really good. Probably one of the better ones we've had."
The Tigers' top three cornerbacks seem fairly set with Kip Edwards backing up Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland. But Gaines is making a move on that fourth spot, especially with Rutland out of practice the last few days with a back strain.
"Honestly all those guys, they've all had their days where they've been performing really well. It's gonna come down to who's the most consistent, who doesn't have too many off days," Gettis said of the crowd at corner. "E.J., he's smart. He understands football really well. He understands the plays and he understands how to play the game. That's why, coming in as a freshman, he's looking really good."
Decisions on which freshmen will play will be officially made in the next few days. Gaines and Ruise have already done enough to make the decisions tough ones for the Tiger coaches.
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