Overcoming a substantial injury is sometimes too difficult to manage and when players return, they’re never quite the same.
But the Keller boys soccer team’s goalkeeper James Ruiz has shown where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Ruiz had his orbital bone shattered after a head collision in front of the net during a game against Keller Central last year that took him off the field for five months.
The devastating injury left Ruiz with double vision following surgery to repair the fracture. Surgeons had to remove muscles from the bones around the eye.
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Having to face an oncoming attack as a keeper with the inability to focus your eyes is just not practical.
Ruiz, though, sat out the remainder of last season and can now maintain focus with the assistance of special glasses or contacts.
With the start of the season this year, Ruiz was back, ready to return for his fourth year in goal for Keller.
“In the off-months, I mainly just tried to recover my fitness,” Ruiz said. “I dropped 15 pounds and worked to get back to form.”
Ruiz’s work gained back the pounds he lost and added another five on top of that.
He said he’s back to 100 percent. Getting back, though, was wrought with hesitation and timidity at first.
“It took me about four months to actually enjoy playing soccer again,” Ruiz said of slowly working back into his select soccer season.
Keller head coach Jason Bates said Ruiz showed nothing but excitement to return, though. Ruiz was determined to return to the game he started at the age of 4.
“I started when my mom signed me up against my dad’s will,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz’s father was a hockey goalie and had every expectation his son would follow in his footsteps.
“I tried hockey for two years and didn’t like it,” Ruiz said.
Keller and Bates are the beneficiaries of that unsuccessful stint on the ice.
“I think I always gravitated toward goalie but fell in love with anything soccer-related,” Ruiz added. “I would play any position.”
He also is used in penalties and scored the first goal of his Keller career against Arlington Martin.
Now, though, when Ruiz is back on the field, he sports a rugby-type helmet and wears his contacts to steady his vision.
The key, he said, is being mentally strong and trusting his instincts. He said stopping a shot becomes second nature.
Being a goalkeeper takes a knack for communication and the ability to distribute the ball effectively, in addition to being able to stop shots fired your way.
But Ruiz said as much as he’s loved the chance to return to the field, he’s earned a great respect for life’s blessings.
“After the injury, I learned to take my time playing and not take playing for granted,” Ruiz said. “I certainly don’t take my vision for granted. You can see everything around you – like your hand – and in full color. It’s beautiful.”
Although Ruiz said he’s taking his time, he’s marked the rematch with Central on Feb. 3 on his calendar.
“I just want to have as much fun as possible before going off to college,” Ruiz said, who has signed to play soccer at Mary Hardin Baylor next year.