High school football: With Ruzzo leading the way, Springboro ‘believes’

Senior quarterback a leader for state-ranked Panthers

Evan Ruzzo always started at quarterback. Then he got to high school and waited his turn.

As a sophomore he watched from the sideline as Mikey Appel led the Springboro offense. As a junior he started at running back alongside quarterback Sam Feldman and rushed for almost 1,000 yards. A lot of those yards came out of the Wildcat formation in which he took the shotgun snap and ran.

Panthers coach Ryan Wilhite said it was important to put Ruzzo in those decision-making situations last year to prepare for this season. And what a season it is so far for the Panthers and Ruzzo .

Springboro is 5-1, is rated No. 4 in the Division I, Region 4 playoff points and is ranked No. 9 in the state media poll. The Panthers are coming off come-from-behind victories over Fairmont and then No. 2-ranked Centerville. The Panthers are the only 3-0 Greater Western Ohio Conference team heading into Friday night’s game at Springfield (4-1, 2-1).

“We have a great team, great chemistry,” Ruzzo said. “We all believe right now, that’s the biggest thing. And this week with Springfield I haven’t heard one guy in the locker room talk about how we’re not going to win. Everybody believes.”

Wilhite decided playing Cincinnati Elder would be good preparation for the GWOC’s gauntlet of good teams. The Panthers lost 21-20 after holding a 20-7 lead. Elder (5-1) is the No. 2 team in Springboro’s region.

“We believed from the beginning, but we began to believe even more after Elder,” Ruzzo said. “We learned from our mistakes, and we believed that we could hang with anybody at that point.”

Ruzzo’s combination of passing and running skills make the Panthers a balanced offensive team and the second-leading rushing team in the GWOC. He has completed 65.8% of his passes for 1,022 yards and 12 touchdowns and has rushed for a team-high 589 yards and five touchdowns.

Ruzzo says he doesn’t have a favorite position. He was happy to help the team as a running back last year and is happy to be the quarterback and team leader this season.

“If you pressed him he would probably rather be a quarterback because he’s a good leader,” Wilhite said. “He likes those intangibles, the things that make up being a quarterback,. But he doesn’t care if the team needs him some place else.”

Ruzzo has college offers from Division II Charleston (West Virginia) and Division III schools Wilmington and Mount St. Joseph. He’s not being recruited to a specific position yet. Wilhite said Ruzzo could even play defense even though he doesn’t for the Panthers.

“If I’m a college coach, I’m looking at a guy who can do lots of different things,” Wilhite said. “He’s athletic, and he’s tough, and he’s going to make us better when he walks in the door because of the kind of person he is.”

Wilhite said Ruzzo’s leadership qualities will benefit any team plays for. He said Ruzzo treats everyone on the team the same from seniors to freshmen, from starters to third-stringers. And he hears similar reports from teachers.

“He’s got as much respect as anybody I’ve seen come through our doors,” Wilhite said. “And everybody respects him for similar, yet different things because it depends on what perspective you’re coming from.

“Just because you’re a good person, and just because you’re a good leader, that doesn’t necessarily win you games in this conference. But I will say that it makes others want to follow you, and I think that’s really important.”

The most important time for that might be Friday at Springfield. The Panthers passed big tests the past two weeks by relying on defense and the offense’s ability to overcome deficits in the second half. But Springfield, a team expecting to return to the state final where they lost last year, is coming off a loss to Fairmont it didn’t expect. And the previous week in a victory over Beavercreek, coach Maurice Douglass said the performance was not up to program standards.

“It wouldn’t have mattered what happened against Centerville, our guys would be ready to compete against Springfield,” Wilhite said. “And it really doesn’t matter what happens this week, we’ll be ready to compete against Northmont the following week. I’ve learned enough about our football team through the first half of the season that we won’t allow something to stop us from from loving to compete and loving to play together.”

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