SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In Ohio State’s season opener against Florida Atlantic, Jeremy Ruckert caught four passes, including two for touchdowns.
In the Buckeyes’ next 11 games, he had a grand total of eight catches, only one for a score.
So when the sophomore tight end made a clutch, one-handed catch for a touchdown to start Ohio State’s comeback in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, the temptation was to think it was long overdue that the Buckeyes rediscovered Ruckert as a target.
Don’t include Ruckert among those who did.
“I wasn't really thinking about that,” he said last week as the Buckeyes prepared for their College Football Playoff semifinal Saturday against Clemson. “This whole year, we've been just trying to think about the team goals and about how our unit's doing and our team's doing.
“It's cool to get in the end zone. Everybody sees it. But all the other stuff we do, it just means so much more to our team and our program, and I think we take so much pride in that that I really wasn't thinking about (the limited number of catches).”
Ruckert is part of a four-man rotation at tight end. Luke Farrell is the starter, but Ruckert, Rashod Berry and Jake Hausmann all see significant action because the Buckeyes often use multiple tight-end formations.
Ruckert is a special talent as a receiver, as the catch against Wisconsin showed. Given his ability, it’s natural to ask why the native of Lindenhurst, New York, would come to a program that historically has seldom thrown to tight ends.
His answer is revealing.
“I think I just wanted to come to a place that would maximize me in all three levels of being a football player,” Ruckert said. “That's on the field, off the field and after football. I think this is the best place to do that, because I knew if I came here, I wouldn't be able to get on the field unless I learned how to pass protect and run block.
“Learning how to do those two things the last year and a half, it's been crucial and developed me as a player. And then just all the other stuff with academics and life after football here, there was no question to come here and develop as a human being, not just a football player.”
Ruckert has earned OSU Scholar-Athlete honors for having at least a 3.0 grade-point average. But he also has NFL aspirations, and he knows that versatility is prized on 53-man rosters.
“I think coming to a place like this, getting developed as a complete tight end, was the best option for me,” he said.
With that perspective, having only 13 catches for 136 yards this season isn’t cause for worry. He’s more encouraged by his improvement as a blocker.
“I came in not really knowing what to do and how to do it,” he said.
Ruckert acknowledged that he was a passive blocker when he arrived. He had to learn how to be aggressive in that phase of the game.
“I think it’s been a pretty big jump from last year,” he said.
He hasn’t neglected the pass-catching part of his game. The one-handed catch against Wisconsin was reminiscent of those by Odell Beckham Jr., who was a New York Giants receiver when Ruckert was in high school nearby.
Ruckert said he had a few one-handed catches in high school and continues to work on them in practice.
“We always want to be prepared,” he said.
After all, chances for catches don’t come that often for an Ohio State tight end, even one as skilled as Ruckert.