Little kids can soften us.
"And you learn a lot of patience," said Cameron Ruiz, who graduated from Lakes High School last month. "I babysit my siblings all the time. I take care of them.
"It's a different experience, different from what you're used to, for someone my age."
Ruiz has three younger siblings. Way younger. His brother Aiden is 6, his sister Arya is 2 and his newest sibling, Mateo, is just 4 months old.
A football and track star at Lakes over his high school career, Ruiz has a softness that you wouldn't expect from an athlete of his caliber, let alone a teenage boy.
It's a layer to Ruiz, the Daily Herald's 2017 Lake County male athlete of the year, that makes him all the more intriguing.
"One of the biggest things I try to instill in the guys I coach is that how you are on the field and off the field needs to be two different people," said former Lakes football coach Luke Mertens, now the football coach at Lake Zurich. "A lot of kids can't differentiate between the two. Cameron has been able to do that. He just really cares about other people. He's the type of kid that if someone falls down, he's immediately asking if they're OK and helping them up, instead of laughing like a lot of kids would do.
"He's just kind-hearted. He's a gentle soul. But on the field, he is super competitive. He's all about winning."
Ruiz was in hyper-competitive mode at the IHSA track and field state meet last month.
Looking to defend his state titles in the long jump and the triple jump from last year, Ruiz fell just a tad short in the long jump. He posted a 23 feet, 7½ inches for second place to winner DaVion Cross of West Aurora, who jumped 23 feet, 11¼ inches.
"I was really unhappy about the long jump, just really upset," Ruiz said. "I wanted to win it again. But I didn't and that really gave me a lot of motivation for triple jump."
All Ruiz did was go out and set a new state triple jump record on his second of three jumps. His record-setting 51 feet, 1 inch broke the record by a half-inch and gave him a win over Cross, who turned in 49 feet for second place.
"We push each other," Ruiz said of Cross, also a football player.
Ruiz says that over the last couple years, he has learned of an interesting connection between jumpers in track and football players, particularly defensive backs.
It's how he got noticed by the college scouts. In fact, Northwestern, which signed Ruiz in February, puts a huge premium on defensive backs who put up big numbers in the jumps during track season.
"Northwestern has recruited some really good track guys, jumpers, who turned out to be really good football players, cornerbacks," Ruiz said. "They think there are a lot of similarities between the explosiveness you need to be a good jumper and the explosiveness you need to jump for the ball and make cuts against receivers. When Northwestern heard about me (winning both state long jump and triple jump last year), they were excited."
Of course, Northwestern was also excited about the fact that Ruiz, a four-time all-stater in track, was a pretty good football player, too, as a running back and defensive back.
This past season, he 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. He was named first-team all-state.
For his career, Ruiz ranks second all-time at Lakes in career rushing attempts and touchdowns.
"I don't think there are many athletes of his caliber that I will get to coach. Ever," Mertens said of Ruiz, who scored 2 touchdowns and ran for more than 100 yards in his first varsity game as a sophomore, a win over rival Antioch. "Football is a game of speed and speed is Cameron's biggest strength. His ability to get from zero to 100 is freakishly amazing.
"I think Northwestern is a perfect fit for him."
Ruiz is exactly the kind of defensive back the Wildcats look for, plus, he'll fit right in on the academic side. He makes all As and Bs and takes on his studies with the rigor he takes on football and track.
"I think we'll be hearing a lot more about Cameron," Mertens said.
Ruiz is in no rush. He figures he'll be red-shirted next year to get bigger and stronger. But then, he says it's full-speed ahead. He says he has big dreams.
"I want to make a name for myself at Northwestern," Ruiz said. "I want to leave my mark there."
He wants to be a big brother to look up to.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw