Indianapolis, IN -- Camden, New Jersey native and Michigan center Cesar Ruiz was only eight years old when tragedy took away his father.
The elder Ruiz, also named Cesar, had stopped to help a stranger fix a flat tire on the side of a road in Camden when he was struck by a car and killed.
Between losing his father, to whom he was very close, and growing up a witness to the violent and dangerous surroundings that the city of Camden is known for, Ruiz could have just as easily allowed himself to be swallowed up by the lures crime.
His mother, Latoya, wasn’t having any of it.
“I was fortunate enough to have a mom that was really strict on me, so I was never really allowed to be in those areas or even be caught up in those situations,” Ruiz said Wednesday at the combine, where he’ll put his skill set on display for the league Friday night.
Around his neck is sure to be the laser-engraved dog tag bearing a photograph of his father and him as a toddler that Ruiz has worn throughout his college career.
“This whole entire experience is dedicated to that whole situation, that tragedy,” Ruiz said. “I still do it every night, every day, I think about it. If my dad were here to see what I'm doing right now, he would be mind blown. So I'm still playing for my dad, I still play through my dad, my dad still lives through me. And that's how it's always going to be.”
Thanks to his environment and circumstances, Ruiz developed into a take-charge type who is every bit at home at center because, as he explained, he likes being in charge.
He credits his development that way in part due to losing his father at such a young age, and in part to growing up in a neighborhood where he came to initially think that the violent world he witnessed or heard about almost daily was the norm.
“It'll test your character. It will either make or break you. There's a lot of people I grew up with, it didn't make them it broke them,” he said about growing up in Camden.
“But you just gotta have a good head on your shoulders. You see good things every day. You hear about violence, shootings, killings, rivalries--you hear that almost every week. So just things like that, it's something you become immune to. And it helped me mature a lot at such a young age. Growing up in that kind of neighborhood, there's a lot of different distractions you could come by. It takes a mature young man to keep your head on straight and not get distracted,” he said.
Since declaring for the draft, Ruiz has had his eye on the prize, which is not only being selected by a team but potentially going in the first round of next month’s draft.
“I'm just looking forward to showing coaches how good I can really move, how much I've improved since my three years at Michigan, and what I'm really worth,” he said.
When asked what he believed he’d excel at, Ruiz confidently said, “I believe I'll excel at a lot of different things--a lot of agility drills, a lot of pulling drills, and just a lot of different drills that involve a lot of movement. Lateral movement drills at the combine, I think I'll excel a lot in those.”
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Coming into the combine, Ruiz, according to some draft analysts, had a first-round grade, which Ruiz said is nice, but it just a projection at this point.
“I've got to make it happen. It's good to see it, of course, it gives me a good idea of where I stand,” he said. “But I try to stay out of that stuff and just focus on the task at hand.”
Ruiz, who, depending on which draft analyst you like to read, has been projected anywhere from late first round to second round, believes he’s a first-rounder.
“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,” he said. “I'm very confident in myself that I am a first-rounder.”
He’s also known for having such a high football intellect, that he was entrusted with making the protection calls on offense.
“I believe that's one place that I've excelled a little bit in some of my formal interviews, my ability to remember plays and reiterate plays on the board, and the way I am able to describe my film. I think that's one thing I maybe impress teams with,” he said.
“At Michigan, I was always in my playbook. I was always studying the offense. I was always doing a lot of things like that. I just have a thing for football,” he added.
“That's where I think I stand out with these interviews, these formal interviews because I just know so much about football and I love football. So I'm learning new things. I'm actually locked in and engaged.”
And he’s ready to take on that challenge at the next level, saying he was born to play center.
“I'm in charge of the whole show,” he said when asked why he favored the center position so much “If something goes wrong, I'll take the heat for it. Things are going good, I'll take the shine for it as well.”
And speaking of shine, Ruiz hopes to use his future NFL platform much in the same way his father lived his life: as a good Samaritan who helps others.
“That's really what I pride myself on is just doing things for people and being a good person,” Ruiz said.
And if that opportunity should come as a member of the Giants, then even better because, as Ruiz, who can also play guard, said, it would allow for his mother, who still resides in Camden, to see him play professionally.
“My mom is everything to me,” Ruiz said. “She is probably the most influential person in my life.