As a freshman in 2010, Ruble was skeptical of the overtures from the Stags’ football coaches who saw a lineman beneath the basketball jersey. But as he added two inches and 40 pounds over the next year, Ruble softened his stance and soon found himself cracking pads — and often getting bulldozed — in practice by Virginia-bound defensive lineman Michael Moore.
With Ruble counting down the days to basketball season in the fall of 2011, DeMatha’s left tackle was injured against conference rival Gonzaga. Ready or not, Ruble was the next man up.
“I got thrown in the fire in a game, but I was able to hold my own,” Ruble said. “That was when I knew the football field is where I’m supposed to be.”
Ruble, who holds offers from Florida State, Maryland and Ohio State, enters the 2013 season as a cornerstone on DeMatha’s offensive line and a member of one of the most highly recruited classes of linemen the D.C. metro area has seen in years.
The class of 2014 features the nation’s top recruit — according to Rivals.com — in Woodbridge defensive end Da’Shawn Hand as well as four-star offensive lineman Damian Prince (McNamara) and defensive end Jesse Aniebonam (Good Counsel). Good Counsel senior offensive lineman Sam Mustipher is bound for Notre Dame, and DeMatha defensive end Deonte Holden is committed to N.C. State.
Hand, Prince, Aniebonam, Mustipher, Holden and Ruble all took different routes, but their status as coveted recruits follows the path of a recent string of top-level trench players.
Since 2012, when DeMatha offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandijo (now at Alabama) ranked as the nation’s No. 4 overall recruit, nine linemen from the D.C. area have been consensus four-star recruits or better, per Rivals.com, including Friendship Collegiate defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (Florida State) and Stone Bridge defensive end Jonathan Allen (Alabama).
“We’re not in Texas, California or Florida where the top player in the country comes out almost every single year, but I think our kids bring a work ethic and demeanor for the game that helps them rise to the top,” said Woodbridge Coach Karibi Dede, who was a 2000 All-Met linebacker at Hylton. “In this metropolitan area, we don’t always get a ton of players; we get them in spots. And when we do, they are pretty darn good.”
Football talent is nothing new in the D.C. metro area. What separates the likes of Allen, Hand and other local standout linemen is their blend of size and speed, fitting a prototype that intrigues most college coaches in their search for the next Jadeveon Clowney.
Hand looked college-ready as a freshman, measuring 6-4, 220 pounds, while Prince has piqued the interest of his 30-plus suitors by dropping 50 pounds this offseason to reach a more trim weight of 287.
“First thing is you’ve got to have the body type. You’ve got to see him and think he looks like a big-time player,” said Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson, who counts Allen and current Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Ed Wang among his former players. “Then you need a motor. Very few guys have that combination, but when they do, they can play anywhere, and we’ve seen that in [Allen] and some others in this area.”
Holden’s work ethic at DeMatha has transformed him into a nationally regarded recruit. At 6-4, 205 pounds last season, he was a bit undersized for a college lineman, so he vowed to use his energy on the field to draw attention on the recruiting trail. Now 20 pounds heavier and following several strong offseason performances, Holden drew offers from Boston College, Iowa and Virginia Tech before committing to N.C. State in June.
“I had the heart, and I knew what I was capable of,” Holden said. “So I just showed them that speed kills and made sure I was always around the ball.”
Lining up against Ruble in practice and grappling with talented blockers such as Good Counsel’s Mustipher only aided Holden’s development. As Mustipher points out, facing players with national clout on a regular basis creates learning opportunities through in-game adjustments and film study.
“Anytime you can go up against the best, it breeds competition and growth because you realize what it takes to get to that next level,” Mustipher said. “When I went up against Eddie Goldman, I just tried all the techniques that I could, and once I watched the film, I learned from it.”
The rise in national camps during the offseason has also been instrumental in elevating the reputation of local linemen. When Prince goes to elite combines such as the Nike Football Training Camp, he knows that he’s going up against the cream of the crop, which in turn gives him a chance to refine the skills that have pushed him and a number of his fellow D.C-area linemen near the head of their class.
Prince said the camps provided a confidence boost entering his senior season.
“I can already tell I’m a step quicker and more polished,” said Prince, whose list of finalists includes Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Maryland, among others. “I’ve seen and gone up against some of the nation’s best recruits in games and at combines. That helps make all of us college-ready and hopefully prepares us to do great things at the next level."