PAYSON — When Arizona State football coach Todd Graham was asked about freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz at Pac-12 Media Day recently, an expression came across his face, then Graham summarized that look in one word.
With field goals reaching up to lengths of 60-plus yards in practice, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound kicker has impressed the sixth-year coach of the Sun Devils through the first two weeks of preseason practice.
“I’ve never coached anyone that has more leg talent than he does,” Graham said after Wednesday’s practice at Camp Tontozona near Payson. “He’s a great kid and I think he is going to score me a lot of points.”
The former Williams Field Blackhawk started kicking his freshman year of high school after playing soccer his entire life. He quickly rose the ranks of Chris Sailer’s kicker rankings, that recognize the top kickers from all over the nation.
Soon, Ruiz sat atop that list and started fielding scholarship offers from schools like Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee, Oregon State and Arizona State.
At first, Ruiz committed to play for legendary college football coach Nick Saban at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He reconsidered and ultimately decided to become a Sun Devil.
“I knew college was going to be hard and it kind of is already,” Ruiz said. “I just wanted a place where I knew I would be comfortable in and if anything ever happened I could just take a day off and go home and relax. I’m starting to become an adult now so I wanted at least some help in doing that.”
In four years at Williams Field High School in Gilbert, Ruiz scored 205 total points for the Blackhawks and drilled 31 field goals, according to maxpreps.com To finish off his high school football career, Ruiz and Williams Field captured the AIA Class 5A State Championship at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
“I’m hoping to carry on that winning tradition,” Ruiz said. “It’s been a while since I’ve lost an actual game.”
His last loss came in 2015 when Williams Field fell to Westview in the Division II AIA state playoffs.
Since joining the Sun Devils, Ruiz said there was somewhat of a shock with the difference of age and level of experience throughout the team. But, after a few short weeks Ruiz, 18, believes he is starting to fit right in.
“Once we got out there and I started showing what I could do, I think they started to accept me and believe in me,” Ruiz said. “Which I think is something you don’t really see anymore.”
Since 2013, Graham has had the luxury of having one of the best kickers in the history of the FBS, Zane Gonzalez.
Last season, Gonzalez became the FBS career record-holder for most field goals, with 98, and finished his career with 494 points, which surpassed the FBS record for points by a kicker. Gonzalez was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Ruiz isn’t worried about living up to any expectations.
“I know I need to do my thing,” Ruiz said. “I know he’s the best kicker. I think his freshman year he went 23 of 25 or something like that. But that’s what you’re expected to do in college. You’re not expected to miss, so I just need to do my thing and don’t even worry about that and it will happen.”
His coach believes that he will fill the role just fine as well.
“If I didn’t think that I wouldn’t have signed him,” Graham said.