Vilseck’s Eric Ruzicka has received a football scholarship to Division II Truman State University in Missouri.

Vilseck’s Eric Ruzicka has received a football scholarship to Division II Truman State University in Missouri. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany – Lazy is what they used to call all-Europe football lineman Eric Ruzicka of Vilseck.

Now they can call him a scholarship winner.

Ruzicka, 17, received his nickname when he arrived at Vilseck four years ago weighing more than 300 pounds and struggling to keep up with other players at soccer practice.

By the time he graduated this year, the 6-2 Ruzicka had slimmed down to 260 pounds and was anything but lazy. He worked hard enough on a losing Vilseck team during the 2005 season to be named to the All-Europe offensive team and gain a scholarship to play Division II college football at Truman State University in Missouri.

He also works hard in the gym, routinely bench-pressing 280 pounds. Many who see him working out think he’s in the Army.

“A couple of soldiers went up and shook Mom’s hand and said ‘Your kid is a beast,’ ” he said.

His mom, Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth McKinney, 38, said her son started playing football in eighth grade when she was stationed Ft. Rucker, Ala.

“They take their football very seriously in Alabama,” McKinney recalled.

The 3rd Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment operations sergeant said she discouraged her son from lifting weights when he was younger.

“His friends were lifting weights early but I told him to wait until he got older. He started lifting at age 14. I encouraged him to stay versatile in other sports. A lot of kids get burned out if they are too serious,” she said.

Vilseck football coach Bill Ratcliff said he was impressed by Ruzicka’s character and leadership this season, comparing his size, agility and speed to that of a bear.

Ruzicka said it was a tough year for Vilseck, which went winless after its team was depleted of players with the departure of 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division for the United States. While at Vilseck, he also turned out for the school’s soccer and basketball teams, and played for a German football team from Bayreuth.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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