A big track guy himself, Joseph Ruiz was anxious to show his son Cameron the finer points of the sport.
"I put Cameron on the track when he was 5 years old," said Joseph Ruiz, who was a star sprinter at St. Ignatius High School in Chicago and then set collegiate records while running at Kent State and Loyola. "I love track, so we focused on that a little bit."
Little did Joseph or Cameron know that an early focus on track helped pave the way to a future in the sport that became Cameron's first love: football.
Ruiz, a senior running back and defensive back at Lakes, signed his national letter of intent on college football's National Signing Day early Wednesday morning in the school cafeteria to make his spot on next year's Northwestern University football team official. He will be a defensive back for the Wildcats.
It's been a good run for the Lakes football program. Ruiz is the second Big Ten signee in four years. Former quarterback T.J. Edwards is now a sophomore linebacker at Wisconsin. Overall, the Lakes program has turned out 11 Division I football players in its 12 years of existence.
"This feels a little surreal," Ruiz said of putting pen to paper to make his college commitment official. "I'm excited to see what the future holds at Northwestern. I think I will really grow as a person and as an athlete.
"I was on the phone with the (Northwestern) coaches before I got here and they really got me excited for what my next chapter holds and what I'm going to be doing there. I honestly can't wait."
Ruiz committed to Northwestern last April after the coaching staff there got wind of his talents on the track.
A speed demon and big-time jumper, Ruiz turned heads as a freshman when he placed eighth at the high school state meet in long jump. As a sophomore, he took third at state with a mark of 23-feet.
"In long jump, 23 feet is a pretty big mark, especially for underclassmen," Ruiz said. "The coaches at Northwestern found out about that and I think they were like, 'Wow, this kid has potential.' They had some other defensive backs in the past who were track athletes and jumpers and they turned out to be good football players for them.
"They (the football coaches) think that jumping is explosiveness that can help on the football field. They think I am explosive."
Ruiz upped the ante even more last spring as a junior when he jumped 24 feet and won the state championship in long jump. He also won state in triple jump.
Combine that talent with impressive film and stats from the football field and Ruiz was a prized recruit for the Wildcats.
Ruiz, a three-year starter for Lakes, ranks second all-time in career rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns. During the 2016 season last fall, despite a Week 6 hip injury that he played through, Ruiz had more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns. He averaged 9 yards per carry and 14 yards per reception. On defense, Ruiz had 50 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"Track was huge for Cameron when it came to football (recruiting)," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "Track and football go hand-in-hand. The more football players understand that, the better off they'll be. Football has morphed into a game of speed, no matter if it's a defensive back or an offensive lineman. (College coaches) want guys who can move.
"They also want guys who are explosive. So when you look at Cam's marks in track, in particular what he does in the jumping events, and you combine that with what he does on the football field, it's a no-brainer that he is a Division I athlete."
Ruiz received multiple Division I offers in track, but committed to Northwestern in football so early that it was his only official offer in that sport. He says an offer from Northwestern was all he needed. Football there is on the rise, and Joseph and mom Melanie, who were decked out in their Northwestern gear at the signing event, love Northwestern's academic reputation as well.
"It's close to home, the school is great. Northwestern has everything, and I just loved the place as soon as I saw it," Ruiz said. "I didn't want to deal with the stresses of recruiting, so I just committed right away.
"I like how committed (Northwestern) Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald is to the program. I like a lot of the guys coming back. I think I'll learn a lot from those guys. They've got a new facility (in the works), plus, I think the team has a lot of potential for next year. I remember when I committed, I was like, 'I can't believe this is happening.'"
Ruiz says he still pinches himself sometimes.
"I'm still like that. I still can't believe I'm the kind of athlete that is getting all this," Ruiz said. "I'm nervous, I have a lot of emotions going through me right now, about how I'll do and if I'll fit in.
"But I'll find my place."
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