Ed Ruiz knew he was taking a chance playing football his senior year at Marina High School.
Ruiz, who weighs 130 pounds, knew he would be risking injury and the possible end of a much more promising wrestling career by joining the football team.
As a junior, he won the CIF Southern Section 4-A title at 128 pounds, finished third in the Masters meet (which combines all divisions) and placed sixth in the state tournament. As a sophomore, he was seventh in the state meet, fifth in the Masters and second in the Southern Section and Sunset League. As a 100-pound freshman, he was second in league and won two matches before being eliminated in the Southern Section meet.
And he was looking forward to a highly successful senior year.
Still, Ruiz wanted to play football. And when he did, his worst fears were realized; he got hurt.
While making a tackle against Esperanza in the second game of the season, Ruiz damaged cartilage in his left knee. On Oct. 28, he underwent arthroscopic surgery.
"I knew I might get hurt," Ruiz said. "But I knew I could take care of myself. I've played football my first three years and didn't get hurt. Some people tried to talk me out of playing but I was stubborn. It was my senior year and I wanted to play."
The injury ended his football season and caused him to miss the first six weeks of wrestling. Ruiz returned two weeks ago with a 15-4 win against a Huntington Beach opponent in Marina's first Sunset League match.
Although he won, the match showed Ruiz and Coach Paul LaBlanc that he still had a long way to go to reach top shape.
"Right away I took my opponent to the ground," Ruiz said. "But after that, I could tell it had been a long time since I'd wrestled. I controlled the guy but I just couldn't pin him."
Said LaBlanc: "You could tell he was rusty, although he won. It was really sloppy. His moves weren't really sharp . . . The big thing now is for him to get his confidence. This is the first time he has ever been hurt like this. I expect him to be 100% in a couple of weeks."
Ruiz appeared to be in better shape for his second match when he pinned Ocean View's Eric Stephaine in 37 seconds.
Saturday, he faced his first real endurance test, wrestling four times in the San Clemente Tournament. He survived without any problems, winning all four matches and the 128-pound class.
"Not having Eddie out there earlier, hurt us," LaBlanc said. "The other wrestlers didn't have a role model to watch. When they watch Eddie and see how intense he is, it makes a difference. Just by seeing him, it makes them more aggressive."
The Vikings are 4-16-1 this season, but the outlook is improving. For the first time in four seasons, they are fielding complete teams on three levels. Marina is 2-0 in Sunset league matches, but face league powers Edison on Thursday and Fountain Valley next week.
Not being on a winning team made Ruiz often wish he was at a more powerful school.
"At first it bothered me to not be on a great team," he said. "I would see Loara in the CIF competition and see them have a bunch of guys going to the finals. I thought it would be neat to be on a team that was really good.
"But Marina is coming along . . . Now, the practice room is too crowed, before you had all the space you needed."
In each of the last three seasons, Ruiz was Marina's only representative in the Southern Section tournament, and would travel to Loara to practice.
As a freshman, he meet then Saxon Coach John Dahlem, Savanna's assistant principal who is retired from coaching. Dahlem coached Loara to 10 league titles, and the 1983 Southern Section 4-A championship.
"He has a great way of getting you motivated," Ruiz said. "He can tell when you're not working real hard. The workouts over there really helped me get ready for state."
Said Dahlem: "Ed has got two things going for him. He is just a really tenacious kid mentally, and physically he has what we call a 'Gumby-like body.' He can really stretch himself in situations when other wrestlers would get points scored on them, he can come out of it without being scored on."
As he strives to return to peak form, Ruiz knows he needs to wrestle the full six minutes in his matches to get into the kind of shape it takes win in postseason competition.
"I'm not going for pins right now," he said. "Pins are nice, but to get back to where I can wrestle tough, I need time on the mat. In state, a lot of wins come by decision."
Missing all of the preseason, is something that Ruiz believes he might be able to turn to his advantage as the season drags into the Southern Section, Masters and state meets.
"A lot of guys are already burned out on cutting weight," Ruiz said. "This way, I'm not as tired as them because I've only been doing it for a couple of weeks. But they will have the advantage of a lot more matches this season. It's the repetition of the matches that make you tough."
Although he started wrestling in his freshman year, Ruiz was given a quick introduction to the sport a few years earlier.
"My brother (Mark, who wrestles at Golden West College) was in it when I was in junior high school," he said. "He would come home and try moves he learned out on me. He would just take me out and start working me over.
"I would have wrestled even had my brother not been in it. When your small, you always know what sport to go to."