COLUMBIA — Darvin Ruise got too big.
At 6 feet, 2 inches and 220 pounds, Ruise looks every inch a linebacker. It hasn’t always been that way, though.
The freshman is new to the linebacker position after spending his high school years as a 200-pound quarterback and safety. Co-offensive line coach Josh Henson recruited Ruise as a safety, but Ruise spent the winter and spring bulking up to the point that he’d simply outgrown his former position.
“At first he (Henson) was recruiting me as a safety, but as he progressed in his visits … I got bigger throughout the whole process,” Ruise said. “And he was just like, ‘I think they’re going to try you at linebacker. How do you feel about that?’ And I was ready for it.”
Ruise said he was not surprised when his coaches at Missouri saw his new size and decided to switch his position.
“When my high school coach talked to me, he said he thought they were going to put me at linebacker in college,” Ruise said. “I’ve been kind of waiting and kind of anticipating since then.”
Ruise also expected that most recruiters would be less than interested in his skills as a quarterback. His high school, Baker County High School in Glen St. Mary, Fla., is a small school where players aren't always perfectly tailored for their position.
“They’re going to take their best player and put him at quarterback because he’s going to touch the ball all the time and make a lot of plays for them,” Henson said. “That’s really why he was at quarterback.”
Ruise also said that when he threw his first pass, he knew he wouldn’t play quarterback in college.
“I’m not a good passer, so I was like not thinking this was a position I’m going to play on the next level,” Ruise said.
But his experiences at quarterback and safety have each helped Ruise with the Tigers.
“At quarterback, you’re kind of like the general of the offense, and then again on defense the linebackers are kind of like the generals,” Ruise said. “So being in the spotlight at that position was kind of similar (to playing linebacker). Just knowing that whole position and what goes on is crazy. It was different, but hopefully I’m getting better.”
Ruise said that his biggest strength as safety was his ability to see the field. He also said he's used to the physicality of the linebacker position after spending years playing safety.
“At safety you have to be physical, and at linebacker you have to be even more physical because you’re in a box,” Ruise said. “You’re in there with 300-pound linemen instead of 200-pound receivers. It’s a big change, so you’ve got to get acclimated to it.”
Even with all of his experience on both offense and defense, Ruise knows that he has a long way to go before he’ll be ready to face off against Big 12 offenses. Learning how to be a linebacker involves work that is both physical and mental, like learning the steps and footwork that will someday come to him without thinking.
“Nothing comes naturally to him because he’s never done it,” Henson said.
Henson added that Ruise’s speed will definitely ease his transition to linebacker, and fellow linebacker Zaviar Gooden agreed that Ruise’s speed may be the factor that sets him apart.
“He moves well for his size, but he’s very strong,” Gooden said.
Henson has also noticed that the freshman has been catching on to much of the timing and footwork that he’ll need to master in order to be a successful linebacker.
“He’s learning it all new right now,” Henson said. “I think athletically, you watch him run and you watch him make plays and tackle, and you feel like he’s really going to be a good player in the future.”
The future may be sooner than Henson and Ruise initially expected. Although Ruise thought he would redshirt this season, injuries to Donovan Bonner and Luke Lambert have pushed him up the depth chart, where he’s listed as the No. 2 weakside linebacker for Saturday’s game.
Whether Ruise will get a chance to burn his redshirt and gain experience at linebacker remains to be seen, but both Gooden and Henson say Ruise has the talent to be a great player and leader. He just needs to learn how to translate that talent into concrete skills.
“You can’t lead until you learn,” Ruise said.