In past years, I have done examinations of the various positions at which Michigan has pulled in the #1 recruit. So you can find pieces on the #1 running back (LINK), the #1 cornerback (LINK), and the #1 overall recruits (LINK). Below you’ll find a bevy of household names for the sexiest position in football: offensive center.
2000: Jason Respert – C – Warner Robins (GA) Northside
Respert was a backup guard at Tennessee as a freshman and then earned the starting center job in 2001, only to have a season-ending ankle injury after three games. He would go on to start seven games at guard during the 2002-2003 seasons before being named a captain in 2004. I can’t find any evidence of him playing in the NFL, and the latest news I can find is that he was coaching high school football in his home state.
2001: Ben Wilkerson – C – Hemphill (TX) Hemphill
Wilkerson started immediately as a freshman at LSU in 2001. He was First Team All-SEC in 2003 and 2004, and he was the co-recipient of the Rimington Trophy (along with Michigan’s David Baas) in 2004. He went undrafted in 2005 and then played in 32 total games with the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons from 2005-2008. Since then he has been coaching, most recently as an assistant offensive line coach with the Chicago Bears.
2002: Bobby Morton – C – McKinney (TX) McKinney
Morton redshirted for Notre Dame in 2002 and then became the full-time starting center in 2003. He moved to left guard and started in 2004 and then started four games at center in 2005, playing a backup role the rest of his redshirt junior season. He bounced back and forth between center and guard as a fifth year senior in 2006. He was not picked in the 2007 NFL Draft and I can’t find any record of him playing in the NFL.
Hit the jump for more.
2003: Jordy Lipsey – C – Altamonte Springs (FL) Lake Brantley
At Virginia, Lipsey redshirted in 2003 and then was the backup center in both 2004 and 2005. He started all twelve games as a redshirt junior in 2006, and returned as the starter in 2007. He was not drafted in 2008 and does not appear to have had any kind of NFL career.
2004: Jeff Byers – C – Loveland (CO) Loveland
Byers started four games at left guard as a true freshman for USC, but hip surgery caused him to miss 2005 and then a back sprain made him miss 2006. When he returned in 2007, he made twelve starts at left guard and one at center. He was the full-time left guard in 2008 and started games at both center and guard in 2009. Yes, that’s six seasons of collegae ball. He was given a sixth year of eligibility after missing 2005 and 2006 due to injuries. He went undrafted in 2010 and spend parts of five seasons with the Seahawks, Broncos, and Panthers.
2005: Josh McNeil – C – Collins (MS) Collins
McNeil, who signed with Tennessee, redshirted in 2005 and then started nine games at center as a redshirt freshman in 2006. He would go on to start all of 2007 and 2008 at center, which made 35 starts in a row. A knee injury hampered him in 2009 and ended his career.
2006: Buck Burnette – C – Wimberley (TX) Wimberley
I can’t find any evidence that Burnette ever did much on the field at Texas, but he did create a stir when Barack Obama was voted in as President of the United States of America in 2008. He was booted off the team for posting on Facebook, “all the hunters gather up, we have a #$%&er in the whitehouse.” He did apologize, but that didn’t save his football career.
2007: Ryan Pugh – C – Birmingham (AL) Hoover
As a true freshman at Auburn, Pugh started six games at left tackle and played some backup center. In 2008-2010, he started every game at center for the Tigers but went undrafted in 2011. Despite being a Rimington Award finalist, he only latched on with the Carolina Panthers for a short time before moving into the coaching ranks.
2008: Michael Brewster – C – Orlando (FL) Edgewater
Brewster, who played his college ball at Ohio State, was a Freshman All-American and started 49 consecutive games from 2008-2011 in Columbus. He was a team captain and Rimington Award finalist the year that Michigan’s David Molk won the award in 2011. Brewster went undrafted in 2012 and spent time with the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Saints from 2012-2015, starting 10 games and playing in 26 total. He’s now out of the NFL.
2009: Jack Mewhort – C – Toledo (OH) St. John’s
Mewhort, another Buckeye, redshirted in 2009 and then played as a backup in ten games during the 2010 season. Over the 2011-2013 seasons, he started 39 consecutive games, including at left guard, right guard, and left tackle. He was a Second Team All-American in 2013 and First Team All-Big Ten in 2012-2013. Since being drafted in the 2nd round (#59 overall) by the Indianapolis Colts in 2014, he has started 40 games at offensive guard.
2010: Miles Dieffenbach – C – Pittsburgh (PA) Fox Chapel
Dieffenbach stuck with the home state Nittany Lions but redshirted in 2010 and did not see the field in 2011. He became the starting left guard in 2012 and 2013. He tore his ACL in the spring of 2014 but returned in the middle of the season. He went undrafted in 2014 and spent a little bit of time with the Steelers.
2011: Reese Dismukes – C – Spanish Fort (AL) Spanish Fort
Dismukes committed to Auburn and started all 13 games at center as a freshman. He would go on to start 50 games from 2011-2014. He won the Rimington Trophy in 2014 and was a consensus All-American. He went undrafted in 2015 and has spent time on practice squads with the Steelers, Panthers, and Broncos.
2012: Ty Darlington – C – Apopka (FL) Apopka
Darlington went to Oklahoma and started one game at center as a freshman. He was limited to three games as a backup in 2013 due to injury, but he returned to start 25 more games in 2014-2015. He was First Team All-Big 12 in his senior year. He was not drafted in 2016 and spent a little time with the Tennessee Titans, but that didn’t last.
2013: Patrick Kugler – C – Wexford (PA) North Allegheny
Michigan fans are very familiar with Kugler, who committed to the Wolverines. The son of a former NFL offensive line coach, he was expected to be an early contributor. However, he redshirted as a freshman in 2013 and then played in four games as a backup in 2014-2015. He played in five games with one start at left guard in 2016.
2014: J.C. Hassenauer – C – St. Paul (MN) East Ridge:
Hassenauer picked the Alabama Crimson Tide. He has been a backup center for his first three years of college, playing in seventeen career games with no starts.
2015: Tristen Hoge – C – Pocatello (ID) Highland
Hoge’s name may be familiar, and that’s because he’s the nephew of former NFL fullback (and football TV personality) Merril Hoge. He redshirted at Notre Dame in 2015 and played in six games as a backup center in 2016.
2016: Baveon Johnson – C – Lakeland (FL) Lake Gibson
Johnson redshirted as a freshman in 2016.
By the way, the top center in 2018 is Highstown (NJ) Peddie School’s Daniel Dawkins, who has a Michigan offer, and #2 is Detroit (MI) East English Village’s Tyrone Sampson.
That’s 17 centers over the years with varying levels of success. Only two of them were deemed the #1 center in college and won the Rimington Trophy (Ben Wilkerson, Reese Dismukes). Amazingly, only one of these players was drafted into the NFL, and that guy (Jack Mewhort) was someone who didn’t end up playing center in college.
Hassenauer, Hoge, and Johnson haven’t had a ton of time to be successful in college, but the only real bust in the previous 14 was Buck Burnette at Texas. Some poor choices seem to have contributed there, and he wasn’t doing much even before he was booted from the team. So the positive news is that the #1 center usually turns into a pretty good contributor. The bad news is that the second-least successful player is the only other Michigan player on the list, Patrick Kugler.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM CESAR RUIZ?
Ruiz will most likely play center in college, not just because Michigan needs a center going forward, but because the vast majority of these guys stuck at center. Six of them ended up playing at an all-conference level. Ten redshirted as freshmen.
Ruiz – inarguably, perhaps – played the toughest high school competition of anyone on this list, since he attended Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy. His size (6’4″, 315 lbs.), experience, and early enrollment suggest that he may be ready to play earlier than many other college centers. Many of those players played guard early in their careers before settling in at center, which makes sense considering the mental obstacles to overcome in order to handle the rigors of playing college football. Michigan has a returning center in Mason Cole, but both guards graduated. It’s entirely possible that Ruiz plays some guard this coming season, backs up Cole at center, and then becomes the full-time starter in 2018.
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