TIGER KICKOFF: Missouri linebacker thankful for athletic abilities, musical talents

Friday, September 2, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Before every Missouri football game, Darvin Ruise turns on his Christian music. For him, it's a form of worship, of giving thanks.

And he has many talents to be thankful for.

First, there is football, the reason why he is here in the Missouri locker room. Ruise is a high school quarterback and safety turned outside linebacker. The redshirt freshman is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, weighs 225 pounds and would already be starting for the Tigers if not for junior standout Zaviar Gooden.

Ruise also happens to be quite the musician. Growing up in a suburb of Jacksonville, Fla., he picked up one instrument after another while attending the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ. He learned the drums, then the piano, then the guitar and, finally, the saxophone.

Ruise enters a zone when he listens to his Christian music. Lately, before games, it has been Jamaal "Mali Music" Pollard, a gospel singer from Savannah, Ga., and a friend of his. Ruise is not shy or reserved in his praise. He will belt out the words so that all of his teammates can hear him.

After all, his voice might be the talent he values most.

“I sing, man, that’s my ultimate passion,” Ruise said. “Singing is something God has blessed me to be able to do. I’d like to think that I’m OK.”

According to his friends, he is better than OK. Over the summer, cornerback Trey Hobson featured Ruise on his song, “Different Pages,” a Garage Band-produced remix of the Drake song “Marvin’s Room.” Ruise sang the last verse. When they posted it on Twitter, they received nothing but positive feedback.

“I invited him over, and he killed it,” Hobson said. “His voice is crazy — he’s really talented vocally. He’s got a professional voice.”

Ruise has also collaborated with the Kentucky Boulevard Boys, a rap group consisting of Missouri football players. To be an official member of the group, you must be from Texas, but by participating on various tracks Ruise has almost become an exception. He claimed he has signed on and is “on the extension right now.”

“He makes guest appearances,” said Gooden, a member of KBB. “He has a good voice, so we accepted him in a little bit.”

Ruise’s voice and love for Christian music helped him fit in as a freshman last season. He and his senior mentor, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, along with senior cornerback Kevin Rutland, would listen to gospel singer Kirk Franklin before games.

“We started singing, and we were like, ‘Hey, man, we don’t sound half bad,’” Ruise said.

Ruise was raised by his mother, Marie Ruise, but he has a large extended family that attended the same church or a nearby one. Most of his cousins are older than him, and he gravitated toward music after their example. One cousin played the drums. Ruise emulated him, and by age 10 or 11 when the church needed a drummer, he took over. Another cousin taught him how to play the saxophone.

Ruise said he got his voice from his mother, though. It was her voice that drove him to pick up musical instruments.

“I wanted to play with my mom,” he said.

Because of the time commitment football required, Ruise did not join the band in high school. But every Friday afternoon during the season, he would slip into the music room and sit down at the piano.

“I would just dibble and dabble,” he said. “A lot of guys do different things on game day. That was my thing, to get away and play some music. It kept my attention off the jitters and put me in a calm, peaceful and relaxed state.”

Ruise has continued a similar ritual at Missouri. He does not have any of his instruments in Columbia, but during the season, nearly every Monday when the players have off, he meets up with his friend Andre Walton, a keyboardist and bass guitarist, at Urban Empowerment Ministries.

Walton, a 2009 Missouri graduate and a creative arts director at Urban Empowerment, which focuses on the musical aspect of worship, had seen Ruise singing in the back during services but didn't meet him until a gospel choir meeting. The football player told Walton about his experience growing up in Florida, and soon they began meeting for jam sessions.

Ruise's talents impress Walton, but he is especially appreciative of the Ruise's modesty.

"Darvin is one of the most humble individuals I have ever met, and it's crazy because he's a very talented young man," Walton said. "Normally when you see people of that talent, they're not down to earth, they're untouchable. Darvin has a great head on his shoulders, and at a young age has quite a bit of wisdom."

Most recently, Walton said he is working with Ruise on a Donald Lawrence song, "Encourage Yourself," which the linebacker will perform in church.

Ruise does not limit where and when he sings. When he and some teammates went to see cornerback Robert Steeples do stand-up comedy, Ruise took the open microphone and sang. When he is in the team showers, he sings. And, according to quarterback James Franklin, Ruise has also serenaded the women’s volleyball team.

Franklin said he was unaware of Ruise’s similarly strong faith until this past summer, when the linebacker reenacted one of Franklin's sermons. The imitation was dead-on, if not exaggerated. Apparently, Ruise has yet another skill.

“He’s really good at imitating preachers,” Franklin said. “He puts a little of his personality into it. If a preacher is talking about a certain topic, he’ll act it out, and he does a little more than what actually happened.”

Come Saturday’s season opener against Miami (Ohio), Ruise's pregame praising will be no joke. He will listen to Mali Music, or perhaps Kirk Franklin. And he will sing.

“It gets my focus where it needs to be,” Ruise said. “At the same time, I think about giving back to the God who gave me this athletic ability in the first place.

“I’m pretty much in worship the entire time before games start.”

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