Meet freshman quarterback Jace Ruder, UNC’s backup if injured Cade Fortin can’t go

Quarterback Jace Ruder (10).
Quarterback Jace Ruder (10).

On Wednesday night, North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora had no update on the status of freshman quarterback Cade Fortin, who started last Saturday against Virginia Tech but was injured.

But he seemed to indicate that Fortin was not an option for UNC this Saturday.

Fortin was hit hard as he tried to scramble for a touchdown in the first half. He was taken back to the locker room and when he returned to the sidelines he was wearing street clothes.

“We have Nathan Elliott, we have Jace Ruder, and we have Manny Miles,” Fedora said of who could play quarterback. “And we have Anthony Ratliff.”

Fedora doesn’t talk about injuries, but as the days go on, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Fortin could miss an extended period of time. Junior quarterback Nathan Elliott, who played in relief of Fortin, will likely start on Saturday against Syracuse if Fortin can’t play.

Elliott, who started the first four games of the season, was 11-15 for 147 yards and one touchdown last week.

“Yeah, I’m starting, I’m assuming, and I’m just going to be the best version of me I can be,” he said.

Quarterback Jace Ruder (10)

If Elliott is the starter and Fortin is out, that also means freshman quarterback Jace Ruder will likely be No. 2 on the depth chart. Sophomore quarterback

Chazz Surratt is out for the season

with a wrist injury, and Ruder has been splitting second team snaps this week with Miles, a senior, who was also a walk-on.

Ruder, who was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, according to 247sports, and the top player from Kansas, enrolled at UNC in January. He participated in spring practice.

The 6-2, 220-pound quarterback played high school football at Norton Community in Kansas. His coach, Lucas Melvin, said Ruder started from day one of his freshman season.

Ruder did everything for his team. He handled kicking and punting duties. He played defense. And he played quarterback, which was his best position. In 37 career games he threw for 4,817 yards, 45 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. A multiple-time state champion in track & field, Ruder frequently used his legs and ran for 2,178 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Melvin said during Ruder’s sophomore year in the Kansaa state playoffs, Ruder helped lead his team on a 80-yard drive to win the game against the No. 1 team in the state.

“I thought he showed a lot of poise there,” Melvin recalled. “It was a big-time situation. We had to rely on him. He’s just a quality young man and wants to do what’s right.”

Ruder was not made available for this story. UNC does not allow freshmen to speak with the media until they have played a game. Ruder has not played yet.

But players and coaches say Ruder has a lot of potential and rave about the freshman’s athletic ability in practice.

“Athletic kid. Can run,” junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams said.

Said junior offensive lineman, William Sweet: “Works really hard. Just a really good dude. That’s why I say he has a bright future.”

The hard work is something Ruder’s parents instilled in him at a young age. He started playing football when he was in fourth grade. Ever since he was a child, he’s dreamed big. When Ruder was in the sixth grade, he told his parents he wanted to play college football someday and eventually make it to the NFL.

Before he got to college, Ruder’s goal was to start at some point during his freshman season at UNC. His goal remains the same.

“He’s planned on it from the start,” his dad John Ruder said. “He prepares every week that he’s going to go in.

“He’s going to do great things (at UNC). We’re confident in that. But we don’t want him to play until they are confident he’s ready to play.”

UNC offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic said he likes what he’s seen from Ruder, but the true freshman is still working on his passing.

During Ruder’s senior season in high school, he leaned more on his legs. He passed for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns, according to Max Preps. He ran for 1,032 yards and had 15 rushing touchdowns.

“He probably wasn’t as advanced in the passing game, and that’s something he’s catching up on,” Kapilovic said. “He has the arm. But there’s a lot to learn for a quarterback and reading your progression and things like that.”

“But he’s a grinder. Works at it. High expectations for him as well.”

John Ruder said there were a couple of times this season where he and his wife Jennifer, Jace’s mother, thought he might play. UNC’s coaching staff has designed a few packages for the freshman. But he hasn’t been on the field yet. The elder Ruder said his wife asked Jace if he was he nervous knowing that he might play.

Jace told her “No.”

“I prepared all week like I’m going to play, so I’m ready,” he said.

UNC at Syracuse

When: 12:20 p.m., Saturday

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY


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