For the third straight recruiting cycle – and fourth time in the last five – California has now officially hauled in an Elite 11 quarterback.
Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro quarterback – and Bears commit -- Luke Rubenzer earned the No. 8 spot in the final Elite 11 after six days of work, which was quite an appropriate number, considering the former Cal signal-caller he got to chat up early in the competition.
"He came out the day of the SPARQ testing, I think it was," Rubenzer said of former Bears quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "He was just kind of watching over practice as we were going through drills, throwing one-on-ones, throwing routes-on-air, and he was standing behind one of the lines, and when I got to that line, I got to talk to him for a few minutes."
While Rubenzer said that the conversation was "just a few minutes," Rubenzer apparently left a strong impression. Rodgers tweeted on July 1: "@lukerubenzer go get em future bear. Great meeting u today, keep proving the doubters and Trent [Dilfer, Elite 11 head coach] wrong!"
"It was just a few minutes talking about Cal, and I've been a Packers fan my whole life too, so we talked about the Packers, and just in general, being a quarterback," Rubenzer said. "There's a lot more that comes with it than just throwing a football, or in my case, running the football. It's a lot more off-the-field stuff than people realize, so we just talked about that, and that was something that was really helpful for me, that little talk."
Rubenzer – an Arizona native – grew up as a fan of the Packers because his father was born in Wisconsin, and Rubenzer still has family back there, going back every summer, so he naturally fell into his fanhood, making the conversation with Rodgers that much cooler.
"I love Brett Favre – he's always been one of my favorite players – so it was just kind of natural, because I was always around Packers fans," Rubenzer said.
Like Rubenzer, Rodgers was never the biggest or the strongest quarterback before he came to Berkeley, making the bond between the two even stronger, considering that Rubenzer has always been knocked for his lack of height (a perhaps-generous 6-foot-0).
"Standing next to him, he really doesn't look as big as you would think," Rubenzer said of Rodgers. "He's close to 6-foot-2, but standing next to him, you think, ‘He's an NFL quarterback, he's going to be this huge guy and a great athlete,' but he just really looks like a normal guy. Anyone can get there through hard work and having the drive to do so. It made me have a lot of respect for him, and also, he seemed like a really nice, genuine guy, and that's one of the things that comes with being a good, all-around quarterback: Having those attributes of being a great person, as well as playing well on the field."
Getting tweeted at by the Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP was certainly a highlight of the week for Rubenzer.
"It was awesome," Rubenzer said. "A lot of my family members saw that too – the ones who are big Packers fans – they thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen. It was definitely awesome, and a great feeling, to be recognized by someone who's done good things both on and off the field."
Of course, on the field was the primary focus of the Elite 11 competition, but before all of that could get into full gallop, the quarterbacks were put through some grueling physical and mental tests, including a five-mile trail run after an o-dark-thirty wake-up call.
"It was the beginning of the first real day that we were there," Rubenzer said. "We flew in the day before, had a light workout, they put us through yoga and stuff, but then that next morning, everyone was kind of jet-lagged and everything. We were all tired to begin with, and we had to meet in the lobby at 4:30, so getting up that early, going on maybe five, maybe six hours at the most, and then the run, up and down hills, it was definitely the hardest part. Everyone was having trouble. Some of the coaches were doing it, and they started to have trouble. It was definitely the hardest part."
The hardest part of that, for Rubenzer, was that the repercussions of that run stayed with him throughout the week, despite the fact that he does much of his work on the field with his quick feet.
"Your hips are tired from driving up the hills, your calves and your feet hurt from the uneven surfaces and the gravel and everything, so that was easily the hardest part," Rubenzer said. "It did add a mental test to the whole thing, because you had to keep telling yourself that you had to do this. You've got to keep thinking positive."
Mental toughness was another focus of the competition, a component at which Rubenzer excelled.
"Being positive and staying within yourself, pushing past your limits, as coach Dilfer would say, he wanted to see the fifth gear," Rubenzer said. "That hike, that run, really showed him a lot of people's fifth gear."
That pushing through the wall, the determination it required, helped Rubenzer even when he was on the bubble early, as the 11th of the top 11 quarterbacks in the second rankings.
"Some of the coaches came up to me throughout the week. I had a 110 SPARQ score, which was really good, especially for a quarterback, and they told me that I can run great, that I'm a great runner, and they just wanted to see if I could throw," Rubenzer said. "By the end of the week, those same coaches were saying, ‘You proved that you're a pass-first quarterback and you can make plays with your feet second.' It was proving to them that I really can do both, and I'm not just an athlete playing quarterback; I'm a quarterback who's an athlete. I think that was very important for them, when they were choosing the top 11."
On the final day, Rubenzer came away with one of the coveted spots in the final Elite 11, something he compared to getting his Cal offer and then committing to the Bears.
"After I got the offer, I committed, and now the Elite 11, it's just more and more things being lifted off my shoulders," Rubenzer said. "It's definitely going to clear my head for my senior year. It was a great honor, it felt great, and I can't wait to get back to work and keep doing better.
"It was a great feeling. They lined us all up and went over, went down the list one-by-one, letting us know if we made it or not. When he gave me the OK to step back, meaning that I made it, it was a relief. This whole process has been full of steps like that. It just feels like more and more weight is being lifted off of my shoulders."
Old Number Eight
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