MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Henry Ruggs III, one of Alabama’s top wide receiver prospects, almost ended up not playing football.
Ruggs’ coach at Robert E. Lee High School, Tyrone Rogers, played defensive end for the Cleveland Browns from 1999-2004 and knows a football player when he sees one.
Ruggs didn’t start making football a priority until his junior year when Rogers kept on bugging him to play.
“It was kind of like dating,” Rogers said of his pitch to Ruggs. “I needed to do whatever it took to get him on this football team.
“Being a former college coach and having the opportunity to play professional ball for some time, I knew when I first saw him that this kid has the opportunity to do really special things. He sets himself apart from many other people because of the things he can do.”
The 6-foot, 175-pounder was solely focused on playing basketball for Lee until Rogers’ constant communication with him worked. It did take some convincing because, admittedly, basketball is Ruggs’ first love.
Ruggs was named to Alabama’s first-team all-state team this past year. When he was a freshman standing at 5-foot-8, Ruggs could dunk.
College coaches tell Rogers all of the time that the main thing they love about Ruggs’ game is his explosiveness, which is something he showcases on a daily basis.
“He has that ‘wow’ factor,” Rogers said. “When you see him on the football field, you’ll see two to three guys around him and then the next thing you see is him elevating over everybody else and catch the ball.”
The nation’s No. 24 wide receiver grew up playing football in Pop Warner leagues, but he never loved the game. Rogers wasn’t the only person that fueled his current passion for football. His friends kept getting on Ruggs, too.
“They were challenging me saying I couldn’t do the things they were doing,” Ruggs said. “I came out my 11th-grade year and put up numbers. I showed them that I could play.”
In his junior season, Ruggs had 44 receptions, 1,007 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He’s only played around 15 games in his high school career. Despite limited playing experience, some of the nation’s top programs want Ruggs in their jersey — Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Florida and Michigan to name a few.
The Crimson Tide is the perceived favorite to land Ruggs when he makes his college decision before the start of his senior season.
Alabama wide receivers coach Billy Napier and defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley visited Ruggs earlier this week and told him how important he is to the future of the program.
“It says a lot to me because wherever you go, you want to choose a school that is prioritizing you and giving you the opportunity to play as a freshman,” Ruggs said. “That’s a big statement that I was one of the first receivers they saw.
“Coach Napier has been drilling it in my head that I am one of the top targets on the board. That’s why he was telling me that he needed to come down here to keep drilling it in my head that he wants me.”
The state of Alabama’s No. 9 prospect has visited Tuscaloosa more than any other college town. He did say that the amount of times he’s visited Alabama helps the Tide’s cause when it comes time to making his decision.
“It’s definitely helping Alabama because every time I go there, I learn something new about the school and the program,” Ruggs said. “I discover something different about the program every time I’m there.”
Ruggs has mentioned the possibility of playing both basketball and football to Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Illinois. He said the Fighting Illini have sounded the most intrigued about him being a dual-sport athlete.
But even with that chance of playing his first love and the sport he knows he has the best opportunity to play professionally, it sounds like Alabama is in the best spot to land his commitment.
“They have everything you would want in a school,” Ruggs said. “They have support around everything you want, whether it’s academics, outside of school, athletics, nutrition, training. They have everything.”
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Chris Kirschner covers Alabama football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Bryant-Denny.