ALA-MISS ALL-STAR: Ruggs makes instant impression in All-Star game
By Tim Gayle
It took Henry Ruggs 15 seconds to make an impact in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game at Cramton Bowl on Saturday.
Ruggs fielded the opening kickoff at the 10-yard and sprinted past everyone to the end zone.
“It was a huge hole for me to run through,” Ruggs said. “What did I see? Green. A lot of green.”
It has happened only one other time in the history of the game and Steven Coleman’s return in 1989 was negated by a penalty. Ruggs’ record-setting return would allow him to finish as the game’s leading all-purpose yardage leader with 120 yards, but there would be no more kickoff returns. Connor McKay angled sky kicks toward the sideline for the remainder of the day to keep the ball away from Ruggs.
“We were on the sideline talking about it and everybody was saying they’re not going to kick to you any more,” Ruggs said. “But we can’t do anything about it. Just keep playing.”
The Robert E. Lee High receiver, who is uncommitted at this point, had two receptions for 21 yards in the game and dropped a third that may have doubled his receiving yards, but none of the three slant-in passes from Bubba Thompson were in front of the receiver, forcing Ruggs to slow down to catch the ball.
He also ran a reverse in the second quarter that went for no gain and dropped a punt from Thomas Stevens on a free kick following a safety, then returned it nine yards.
Ruggs seemed satisfied with the performance in the 25-14 victory, despite the fact that he was only targeted three times. Auburn commitment Noah Igbinoghene, by contrast, was targeted 11 times and finished as the team’s leading receiver with 44 yards on four receptions.
“It’s great to win the game,” Ruggs said, “especially with this group of guys from around the state, getting to know different players and play with different people and just to play on my home field one more time.”
And while head coach Terry Curtis looked like a genius for making Ruggs the primary return specialist for kickoffs, the UMS-Wright coach wanted to talk more about the character of a player who gave up basketball for a week to dedicate himself to the all-star game.
“He’s not just (a great player), he’s a great kid,” Curtis said. “He was made a captain for a reason. The kids looked up to him and he practiced hard. I know he’s in the middle of basketball season but he gave us everything he had all week long.”
Many of the game’s biggest plays were made by uncommitted players. Few were bigger than Alabama all-star MVP Thomas Johnston, the state’s career leading tackler with 678. The Spanish Fort senior added to his legacy with 16 tackles in the all-star game, one shy of the record and the most ever by an Alabama player.
“I don’t know, he may be a step slow or whatever it is they say, but Auburn and Alabama better take another look at him,” Curtis said. “That boy is special. He wills you to win.”