NORTON — Whenever Jace Ruder sees someone he hasn’t spoken with in a while, it’s easy for them to get lost in a conversation about Ruder’s chance to play football at University of North Carolina.
Following his commitment to the university in June, it’s really all anyone was talking about for a brief period of time.
Ruder admits he even found himself searching Twitter and other sites just to see what people were saying about it.
Things slowed down, though, just as the Norton Community High School senior figured they would, and anymore it’s generally not a topic of conversation for the Bluejays’ standout quarterback and safety.
Right now, it’s all about Norton, football and enjoying his final season under coach Lucas Melvin.
“It was a great summer, very busy like usual,” said Ruder, who previously had committed to Tulsa before reopening his recruitment. “I was able to enjoy my final summer (here), though, before having to go off.”
And he looks to continue that trend for the Bluejays, hoping to lead a young Norton team back into the Class 3A playoffs, a run that ended with a 20-0 loss to Hoisington last season. Ruder is confident he and the Bluejays can do some good things, despite the youth, and hasn’t let the impending move to the East Coast detour him.
“He doesn’t bring a lot of that outside stuff into it,” said Melvin, the Bluejays’ 11th-year head coach. “He just wants to try and do his best. He’s a team player, and wants everyone to succeed.”
Last season, Ruder’s play on offense was a big reason for the success. He completed 96 of 189 passes for 1,589 yards with 14 touchdowns. In addition, he had 746 rush yards and 16 touchdowns, going over the century mark in two games.
Barring injury, he’ll likely become the MCL’s all-time passing leader this year as well. He has 3,586 for his career.
This year, he’ll again be counted on in Norton’s run game, along with senior Tevin Petrie, but will try and spread the ball around a little bit to several new receivers.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that have to step up and play,” Ruder said. “I’m really proud of how we’ve been working the last two weeks.”
When Ruder does air it out, it could be in the direction of senior Ryan Johnson or junior Hayden Wiltfong, or even Jace’s younger brother, Jonah Ruder, just a freshman.
“Ryan Johnson, he’s a little guy, but he runs hard routes,” Ruder said of Johnson, the defending 120-pound Class 3-2-1A wrestler. “Good precise route.”
In addition, Ruder said, everyone is getting better at catching the ball, often a problem as the potential ACC QB throws a hard ball.
He also has a big target in Wiltfong, who stands 6-foot-5.
“That’s huge. His hands have gotten much better as well,” Ruder said. “I will also get the opportunity to throw to my younger brother. That’s kind of special to me.”
Special is what Ruder hopes for his final season as a Bluejay before he heads off to Carolina — at least for the time being.
It slowed down a bit, but that hasn’t stopped others from calling.
He’s not really talking about that now though.
“Jace is dedicated to Norton,” said senior teammate and lineman Collyn Auker. “He’s focused on getting us deep in the playoffs. Haven’t heard him talk about it unless someone asks him.”
And that doesn’t happen all that often the last few months.
It’s all about Norton.