What do you get when you catch more than 50 passes for more than 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns for one of the top high school football teams in Arizona?
How about complete anonymity for one of the best receivers in the state. So, Arizona, say hello to Sunrise Mountain senior wide receiver Angel Ruiz.
Ruiz helped lead the Mustangs to a 9-1 record and the No. 1 seed in the Arizona Interscholastic Association 4A playoffs. They begin their quest for the school’s first football state championship against No. 16 Apache Junction 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at Sunrise Mountain High School.
“We have unfinished business after losing in the quarterfinals last season (52-49 to Tucson Catalina Foothills),” Ruiz said. “This team is so close and so focused that we want to show people not to sleep on us.”
Ruiz, who also runs track in the spring, is a member of the SMHS student council, running assemblies before sporting events, has a 3.5 grade point average and plays piano in his spare time.
“I just like to do everything,” Ruiz said. “I like to keep busy and am always working hard to get better at everything I do.”
Father son connection
Ruiz, who had 30 receptions, 626 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016, had a personal goal coming into this season.
“I wanted to triple my stats from last year,” Ruiz said. “That was my goal and that is what focused me personally during the off season.”
He said during the offseason, he was focused on getting stronger and faster and worked out an average of two to three hours a day in the gym and on the field, doing speed drills and running routes.
“I spent a lot of time on the field during the off season, running routes and watching a lot of video,” Ruiz said. “After the way (2016) ended, I knew I didn’t want to feel that again and was going to work as hard as possible to help my team on the field.”
Ruiz, whose father, Richard, is the wide receiver coach at SMHS, said having his dad on the sidelines is a positive he takes advantage of.
“It is definitely tough to have my dad as a coach, but I also look at it as a huge positive, because I know he is always there for me, no matter what,” Ruiz said. “It helps after, because we talk about everything after the game at home and I feel I am getting more because my dad is so tough on me that I can help my teammates both on and off the field.”
Coach Ruiz added that he is tougher on Angel than most athletes.
“Yes, I am tougher on him, because I use him as an example and I know that the other kids see me yelling at him when he makes a mistake, then they know I am trying to coach them and make them all better on the field.”
But Ruiz said he knows his dad and family are always there for him, no matter the outcome.
“My mom and dad have supported me in whatever I want to do, whether it is football, or anything else,” Ruiz said. “My family support system is amazing with my parents and grandparents at every game and my aunts and uncles come to most games. I just feel so loved and my family has been my biggest supporters.”
Top-ranked receiver in the state
Ruiz, who is the top-ranked receiver in the 4A conference, with 56 catches for 1,238 yards and 19 touchdown catches (he also has one rushing touchdown on the season), he ranks fourth in Arizona in receiving yards.
He sits behind AJ Blair of 5A Tucson Cholla and Scotty Finnerty of 1A Bagdad and well ahead of the No. 2 4A receiver Kain Ream of Phoenix Thunderbird.
But, Ruiz is one of the least publicized receivers in the state. He has posted more than 100 yards in every game but one this season, while normally being pulled early in the second half of games, because the Mustangs were well ahead. The Mustangs are averaging a winning margin of 43.3 points in each of their nine wins.
“Yeah, it’s tough, because when we get up by a lot, the starters come out to give the younger kids playing time,” Ruiz said. “But, it’s fine. As long as we win, I am fine with it, because our goal is to win a title for Sunrise Mountain High School.”
Ruiz said the toughest part of this season was the lack of respect the team was getting before the season started, as the Mustangs were predicted to finish middle of the pack in 4A.The team had 24 seniors graduate from the team in 2016 that finished 10-2, before losing in the playoffs.
“We took it as a little bit of a slap that everyone thought we would finish fourth, because of all the guys that graduated last year,” Ruiz said. “I became pretty close to (quarterback Keegan Freid) over the summer and we just have a connection that is amazing. He throws a pass, before I turn around and I know it is going to be right there for me.”
While he has had a successful season, Ruiz said he isn’t worried about being overlooked, because he knows his opponents respect his ability.
When asked about Ruiz, defensive players from Buckeye, Phoenix Thunderbird, Cactus and Peoria said he was the toughest player they had to cover this year. But Ruiz said he has struggled with his improvement.
“I think my season has been an eight out of 10, because I have a lot of work to do to get better,” Ruiz said. “But, we have a few more games and I plan on getting better each week, with my goal of a state title still on the horizon.”
Sunrise Mountain’s football team, while one of the most successful over the past eight years – winning .741 percent of their games (66-23) – the team has never been beyond the quarterfinals of the playoffs, and Ruiz knows they have to prove it on the field.
“This year’s team is so close, both on and off the field, and we know we have to prove that we deserve our ranking,” Ruiz said. “That is all that matters; to prove everyone wrong, that we are one of the best teams around.”
Ruiz has been recruited by a number of colleges, including Northern Arizona, Utah State, Weber State and Azusa Pacific, among others, but he has not made a decision on where he will attend college.
“I want to play at the next level, but I am waiting for the perfect offer,” Ruiz said. “I just want the best school and best opportunity for myself.”
He said he is undecided on a major, but is leaning toward something in business, and he is looking forward to proving he can play at the next level.
“I know I can play and want to continue playing, because I love football,” Ruiz said. “But first things first; we have games left here at SMHS.”