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This quarterback likes to cover all bases

La Puente Bishop Amat's Rio Ruiz is a standout at football and baseball. Right now he doesn't want or need to choose one over the other.

September 16, 2010

It's called a vise grip.

Rio Ruiz, La Puente Bishop Amat's junior quarterback, doesn't simply shake your hand. He crushes it, leaving an indelible impression on those greeting him for the first time.

"My dad told me if I ever meet someone and they want to shake my hand, then I shake it hard and look them straight in the eye and ask them how are they doing," Ruiz said. "That's my thing now. Everyone knows me from my handshake."

Yes, the handshake gets people talking, but so does Ruiz's skills as an athlete.

In baseball, as a 6-foot-1 sophomore shortstop, he batted .528 with four home runs and 34 runs batted in. He was 12 for 12 in stolen bases. He had four triples, and each one was a sight to behold because he runs the bases as if he were a 100-meter sprinter.

Last football season, he was a standout receiver and defensive back. This season, he has taken over at quarterback, passing for three touchdowns in helping the Lancers open with victories over Los Angeles Garfield and Compton Dominguez.

Many people have told him to give up football and focus on baseball because they believe he's a can't-miss professional prospect.

For now, Ruiz isn't budging.

"Football has always been a hobby and a love," he said. "When I got to Bishop, I knew I had to be part of the tradition. I knew I was going to play all four years of football and baseball. So far, it's going as me and my dad planned."

Said Coach Steve Hagerty: "Rio loves playing football. He loves Friday nights. I think the excitement he generates from being on the field, I don't think he would give that up. It means that much to him. He is a kid that loves to compete."

Not everyone in baseball think teenagers should focus on one sport. Former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame standout Mike Stanton heard the same doubts when he was playing football, basketball and baseball in high school. He has turned out just fine, emerging as a rookie of the year candidate for the Florida Marlins this season as a 20-year-old.

Eddie Bane, director of scouting for the Angels, said he encourages kids to play multiple sports because it helps develop character and a variety of skills.

"You'd be surprised how many scouts go to football games to see how does a kid perform," Bane said. "How does he handle an interception? How does he handle throwing a touchdown?"

Of course, the threat of injury is real. First-round draft pick Mike Moustakas from Chatsworth quickly gave up playing quarterback for the Chancellors after injuring his ankle during a practice his junior year.

However long Ruiz keeps up his dual-sport commitment, everyone should enjoy it while it lasts.

"People tell me I shouldn't play [football], but it's my choice, my decision," he said. "When it comes down to when I need to stop playing football, I will make the decision and focus on baseball."

Ruiz long ago committed to playing baseball in college for USC, and he is so enamored with the Trojans that he has been heard whistling the school's fight song walking around Bishop Amat.

"Baseball is a passion of mine," he said. "I've been around baseball my entire life. There's never been a day baseball hasn't come up if I was talking with someone or doing something. Football I try to do as much as I can and learn as much as I can because I'm new to this quarterback position. I'm just trying to be a student of both games."

My only advice for Ruiz is that when he shakes the referee's hand before the pregame coin toss, be gentle. Don't forget he's the guy who can throw a flag for roughing the passer.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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