"I like the change," Ruffin beamed. "I'm very comfortable with the change. (Wide receivers coach Henry) Mason's a good coach; he's coached a lot of good receivers. I'm honored to be under his coaching abilities."
Ruffin, who is redshirting as a true freshman this season, has all the physical tools to shine at Wisconsin. He stands 6-foot-4, with good speed, the athletic ability to sky over defensive backs and strong hands. He built his body up to 215 pounds this year before an illness dropped him to 202. He is now back up to 212.
He is also a raw talent, having only played wide receiver in college on the scout team for about half a season. Mason threw cold water on the notion that Ruffin was ready to compete for playing time this spring, when the Badgers must replace their top three receivers.
Mason stressed that Ruffin has not demonstrated that he can read coverages and react accordingly. The Philadelphia native has a lot of rough edges to smooth over in basic fundamentals, such as route running and body positioning. (see related story)
But instincts, size, athleticism, strength? Ruffin could be a prototype. Once he learns the finer points, the Badgers may have a dynamic player to unleash.
Now that his days on the scout team may be drawing to a close, Mason has been pressing Ruffin to study his playbook. "He's obviously looking out for my best interests and trying to bring out the full potential," Ruffin said. "… I think he sees the potential but he wants to make sure I get the little things nailed down first."
Ruffin was recruited as an athlete out of the Scotland School in Scotland, Pa. A defensive end and tight end in high school, Ruffin was most often projected to play strong-side linebacker or wide receiver. The Badgers' coaches decided to try him at free safety.
"It was a good experience," Ruffin said. "I got the chance to go on the defense and learn a little bit about the D backs and got a chance to play under (secondary coach Ron) Lee for a little while. So I got a different aspect of the game. Now, at receiver I could kind of know a little bit better D backs' techniques and use that against them."
After working against Mason's receivers on the scout defense, Ruffin was pleased to transition to the scout offense and jostle with Lee's defensive backs.
"I wanted to play receiver coming in here but I knew I was recruited as an athlete so I was willing to play any position that they put me at," Ruffin said. "Fortunately, they gave me the chance to play receiver, so I just took it."
Ruffin felt that with his size and strength he could give the first-team defensive backs a good look in practice.
"A lot of receivers they've been facing haven't been that big, so me being a bigger receiver gives them that extra edge, being more physical, so other receivers, if they try to be that physical they'll be able to adapt to it very easily," Ruffin said.
Ruffin said that UW's three senior receivers—Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr and Brandon White—have been helping the younger players understand the game. After the Jan. 2 Capital One Bowl, the Badgers remaining receivers will set their sights on a wide open depth chart.
"It's going to be a good competition because we have big receivers, strong and fast, they can jump, so we should have a pretty good receiver corps coming on next year," Ruffin said. "We're just going to see who performs the best and who is the most consistent guy."