TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With two years’ experience and six career starts under his belt, Brock Ruble entered fall camp with designs on winning Florida State’s starting right tackle job for good. It didn’t work out that way. At least not at first. Instead, Rick Leonard, a converted defensive end who moved to the offensive line in the spring, got off to a hot start and, by the second week of practice, had emerged as the clear favorite.
A few days before FSU’s season-opener against Mississippi, Jimbo Fisher made it official: Leonard would start. Ruble would back him up.
Ruble, naturally, was disappointed with the news. But instead of letting that disappointment get the best of him, Ruble, as he put it, he kept his head down and continued to work in the hopes that offensive line coach Rick Trickett might call his number down the road.
Turns out that Ruble didn’t have to wait long.
With Florida State’s offensive line beset by injuries and inconsistency early in the season, Trickett and Fisher made a switch prior to FSU’s contest at USF: Ruble would take over at right tackle. And freshman Landon Dickerson, who got a look the week before at Louisville, would stay beside him at right guard.
So far, the shakeup has paid off. Starting with an eye-popping rushing performance at USF – 478 yards, just one shy of the school record – FSU’s offensive line has since enjoyed its three strongest performances of the season.
The Seminoles are back in action Saturday at home against Wake Forest (3:30 p.m., ESPN).
“This is a team game and you have to put your pride aside at the door,” said Ruble, who at 6-foot-8, 319 pounds is the tallest member of the FSU football team. “Not (pout) whenever it doesn’t go well for you from the very beginning. …
“And all I could do was keep continuing to battle, continue to work to further my skills. And I got a chance and I’ve just been doing the best I can do.”
Ruble’s best has been pretty good.
He rated as one of Pro Football Focus’ linemen of the week after FSU’s loss to North Carolina, and he’s helped the Seminoles average 289.9 rushing yards in their last three games.
And while keeping quarterback Deondre Francois clean is still a top priority, opponents’ sack totals have dropped some, too: FSU allowed 11 sacks in its first three games, compared to seven since inserting Ruble into the lineup.
“Starting for Florida State, it’s an honor,” Ruble said. “The spear means something. I came a long way from home to play for this university. So of course I was excited when I got the nod.”
Fisher, meanwhile, said that in an era of college football where star prospects expect to play from the moment they set foot on campus – and often threaten to transfer if they don’t – Ruble is a great example of what can happen when a player keeps a positive attitude after a setback.
“Just keep sawing wood,” Fisher said of Ruble. “Don’t get mad and quit. Don’t get mad because I ain’t playing. Don’t take my ball and go home. Just keep sawing wood – ‘I’m a sophomore. I’m learning to play’ – Just do what you’ve got to do.”
It helps, of course, that Ruble and Leonard had built a friendship prior to their competition.
Each hails from Maryland – albeit from different parts of the state – and, along with center Alec Eberle (Virginia), make up a trio of Seminole linemen from the Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia region.
In fact, Ruble said that Eberle and Leonard were among his first friends on the team.
“In camp, back then, those (Ruble and Leonard) were always helping each other out,” FSU left tackle Roderick Johnson said. “Always watching film, always correcting each other’s mistakes, pushing each other and fighting for the spot.
“And that’s going to ultimately make them both better players.”
Which also means that the competition between the two isn’t over.
Ruble is penciled in at the top of the depth chart now, but he expects Leonard to keep refining, keep improving and keep pushing him in practice.
That dynamic allows neither player to take much of a breather, but, in the long run, they expect it to benefit both themselves and FSU’s entire line.
“With the talent that we have on our line, I don’t believe we have a ceiling,” Ruble said. “The goal is just to get better and better.”