Fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a great ride.
Phillip Ruiz started kicking around the soccer ball with his friends in Stephenville when he was 12 or 13 years old.
There was no minor soccer program offered in the town, but there were lots of youngsters around at the time who were game for anything that would keep them busy.
Ruiz, son of Tom and Maisie Ruiz, lived in a duplex on the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base.
He has three brothers and one sister who became heavily involved in sports as they became a part of the fabric in the west coast town.
Bruce Power lived across the street from him. Clayton Welsh was his next door neighbour.
For those who know, that is pretty good company if you like to play soccer in this province.
Both Power, the guy who eventually got the minor program started in Stephenville, and Welsh — who calls Grand Bank home — found their way into the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Hall of Fame with impressive resumes outlining their commitment and dedication to the game.
Now, Ruiz will join them as he will be among the 2018 inductees to the Hall of Fame. He will be recognized for his stellar career at the 2018 Hall of Fame and Annual Awards Ceremony April 5 at the Shriners Club in St. John’s.
Ruiz was in an upbeat mood when he talked about the early days.
Ruiz has never forgotten the impact minor soccer had on him and his friends.
Often, they would pile into Power’s car and drive to the soccer field 10 minutes up the road. He recalls seeing as many as 10 guys jumping in the car on any given day.
He was thankful seatbelts weren’t required at the time, because many times the quarters were pretty cramped.
Ruiz, who owns his physiotherapy clinic in Pictou, was an original member of the Danny Boys male youth soccer team that Power and Welsh guided to a provincial championship in the U14 age bracket.
The Danny Boys, with the green jerseys Ruiz still remembers, was a team named out of respect for Danny White, a budding Stephenville soccer player who died in a tragic drowning accident.
Welsh and Ruiz still keep in touch. They have maintained a lifelong friendship, with Ruiz visiting one of his greatest mentors earlier this year when he was in hospital.
But there was a time when Ruiz wasn’t exactly fussy about Welsh.
Ruiz was an offensive-minded player who loved to be the striker. But Welsh decided to move him from the forward position to the fullback position once he got a better idea of what his player could bring to the field.
For three weeks, Ruiz wouldn’t speak to his coach because of his discontent with the change in position.
It turned out to be a good move for the player.
A short while later, Ruiz was named the top defender for his work as a fullback in a provincial tournament.
“He saw something apparently in me on how I read the game and he fostered it,” he said.
Ruiz, married to Tonya Harvey-Ruiz and father of two daughters, had a great run with Mount Allison University in varsity men’s soccer.
He appreciated the support and encouragement he received from Mounties coach Graham Chandler. This is a man also coached him on an Atlantic Under-16 team back in the day, and the guy he credits for helping him develop his skillset to the point where he felt like he belonged with the best.
“I don’t think you can get where I got without positive influences,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz has done his share of coaching over the years and he hopes he had a positive impact on his players like his coaches did for him, but he knows it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his family.
It was from his father, Tom, that he learned a valuable lesson that he took with him wherever he went in life: nothing good comes our way without a strong work ethic.
“When I was on that field I gave 150 per cent. My teammates knew it and my opponents knew that if you were going to come down on my side of the field or in the middle it was going to be a battle if it was going to be you and I,” he said, noting he has taken the same attitude with him as he tries to become the best in his profession by continuously educating himself in every way he can.
Welsh is happy to hear Ruiz is going to join him in the Hall. He figures Ruiz would have been inducted earlier if he hadn’t moved away to Nova Scotia.
Welsh considers Ruiz one of the best defenders the province ever produced for a soccer pitch, quickly pointing out the province has developed fine soccer players who had a stint with the national team, but he’s the only one who was drafted by a professional soccer team.
He remembers the early days of Ruiz knocking on his door and asking him to spend time with him. They would kick around the ball together or Welsh would throw balls at him and get him to practice trapping it.
He was impressed with how hard he worked at improving his skills and he considered him a coachable athlete who had a knack for catching on to things rather quickly.
Ruiz is looking forward to having some of his family on hand for the induction ceremony.
It’s a big night for him and he wants everybody who played a role in his success in the room to share the moment.
His sister, Marlynn, is flying in from Austin, Texas, to be there for her brother, and his mom, Maisie, is definitely going to be there.
The one person Ruiz said he would love to have there is Welsh.
Welsh usually spends the winter months relaxing at his vacation home in Florida. But he is not going south when he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on such a special occasion.
“If there’s any way for me to be there, I will be there, no question. I wouldn’t want to miss it,” Welsh said.
Ruiz loved the game and he played it with passion. It’s a sport that gave him much in life, so he appreciates everybody who took the time to show him how to be a better player. More importantly, he’s grateful for those who helped him become a better person who tried to be respectful of his teammates and opponents at every turn.
“This means an awful lot to me,” Ruiz said. “It just culminates the hard work that was put in by myself.”
Some of the highlights of the road Ruiz took to the Hall of Fame
• Represented Newfoundland and Labrador at national championships at both the U16 and U18 level.
• Represented Newfoundland and Labrador at the 1989 Canada Summer Games
• Played four seasons of varsity men’s soccer with Mount Allison Mounties, where he led his team to the Atlantic University Sport Championship in 1991.
• His time at Mount Allison included AUS and CIS all-star status and an AUS MVP award.
• To cap off his university soccer career, he was named Mount Allison’s male athlete of the year for 1991.
• Signed a professional soccer contract with the Nova Scotia Clippers of the Canadian Soccer League in 1991 to earn the distinction of being the first player from Newfoundland and Labrador to play professionally.
• Won two national senior men’s soccer medals with Nova Scotia’s King of Donair Division 1 team — bronze in 1995 and silver in 1996.