GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Though Florida will be returning every offensive lineman next year, the position is still a need in recruiting.
The Gators will lose their starting left tackle and center after the 2017 season, and they hope to fill the latter role with Cesar Ruiz.
The 4-star recruit from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is ranked the nation’s No. 1 center and No. 66 overall prospect. Ruiz officially visited UF over the weekend.
“This trip definitely helps Florida’s chances a lot,” Ruiz said afterward. “I’ve been here with my team before but I never got to see it for myself and just talk with coaches one-on-one. So it’s great getting that experience and being comfortable with the players.”
Spending time with Florida’s offensive linemen was the highlight of his visit. He was hosted by Martez Ivey and also hung out with Antonio Riles and Jawaan Taylor. Their message to him was simple.
“They said, ‘We’re going to need a center next year and you’re the best center out there, so why not come here?’ We had a quick connection.”
Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers predicted this, telling Ruiz he would fit in with the players and see an opportunity to play early. Summers’ selling points are the reason Ruiz visited Florida.
“Coach Summers never stopped recruiting me. He kept pushing for me,” Ruiz said. “Out of 33 offers, like 25 of the schools gave up. Coach Summers was still there, so I said I’m going to give Florida a chance and I’m going to take a visit.”
In addition to hitting it up with his position group, Ruiz saw the needs on the offensive line as well. The unit did not play as bad as he expected it would.
“The way people talk about it, they make it seem like the line is horrible when they’re really not,” Ruiz said. “They’re just really young. Everything takes time. But it shows they’re not scared to play young offensive linemen. If you’re ready, they’ll put you in the game.
“I went to IMG so I’ll have a little head start against other people that come in with me. I’m also an early enrollee, so I feel like if I came here I’d be ahead of the game.”
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound prospect has a top 5 of Auburn, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Oklahoma. The Wolverines are considered a heavy favorite for Ruiz, but he believes that’s because of his interactions with Michigan fans on Twitter.
“I’m not sure if I ever said Michigan was my favorite, but I can see why people say that. The fans show a lot of love,” said Ruiz, who is originally from New Jersey. “But I don’t really have a leader right now. I’m just enjoying the recruiting process right now.”
Ruiz has official visits left to Auburn (Oct. 21) and Oklahoma (Dec. 2) before he makes his decision on Dec. 18.
“It’s just basically where my heart’s at really,” Ruiz said when asked about the deciding factor. “Where I feel the most comfortable, where I feel like I belong, where I feel like I’m home.”
Florida coaches hit the road recruiting
UF coach Jim McElwain and his assistants will be on the road recruiting during the bye week. SEC Country will have a rundown of their stops each day as well as some updates from those visits throughout the week.
Below are the prospects seen by the staff Monday. McElwain and wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon II visited the nation’s No. 1 WR, 5-star recruit Donovan Peoples-Jones, in Detroit.
Jim McElwain and DB coach Torrian Gray
5-star LB Teradja Mitchell, Virginia Beach, Va.
4-star S Devon Hunter, Chesapeake, Va.
4-star CB Ambry Thomas, Detroit
RB coach Tim Skipper
4-star CB Elijah Blades, Pasadena, Ca.
4-star LB Rahyme Johnson, Los Angeles
DL coach Chris Rumph
4-star S Xavier McKinney, Roswell, Ga.
4-star S DeAngelo Gibbs, Loganville, Ga.
3-star DE Aaron Sterling, Tucker, Ga.
Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins
4-star DE LaBryan Ray, Madison, Ala.
4-star OL Kendall Randolph, Madison, Ala. (Alabama commit)
4-star ATH Chadarius Townsend, Tanner, Ala. (Alabama commit)
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier
4-star OL Andrew Thomas, Atlanta (Georgia commit)
4-star OL Tony Gray, Lawrenceville, Ga.
5-star OL Jamaree Salyer, Atlanta (2018)
LB coach Randy Shannon
3-star DE Jordan Wright, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
3-star OL Kahric Belle, Miami, Fla. (2018)
TE coach Greg Nord
4-star LB Walter Grant, Cairo, Ga.
4-star LB JJ Peterson, Moultrie, Ga. (2018)
4-star RB Dameon Pierce, Bainbridge, Ga. (2018)
OL coach Mike Summers
4-star OL Trey Hill, Warner Robins, Ga. (2018)
4-star WR Kearis Jackson, Fort Valley, Ga. (2018)
3-star OL Christian Meadows, Montezuma, Ga. (2018 Florida State commit)