De’Monte Ruth: back from the brink

Iowa State defensive back De’Monte Ruth walks to the stage during the Cyclone Spirit Rally at AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Spencer Suckow

De’Monte Ruth thought that he was finished.

Nearly two years ago, the now senior cornerback was suspended for Iowa State’s game against San Jose State for an off-the-field issue. The Cyclones won the game, but Ruth’s future with the program was in doubt.

This wasn’t Ruth’s first issue since joining the team. Academic struggles had plagued him since joining the program, and Ruth thought that he had burned his last chance heading into a meeting with head coach Matt Campbell the next day.

“I thought I was done then,” Ruth said. “That Sunday I came in and talked with coach Campbell and he told me that was the last straw.”

However, Campbell and the coaching staff decided to give Ruth one final chance to prove that he could turn things around. Ruth rejoined the team for practice that Monday, and ultimately suited up for the game against Baylor that next week.

Since that meeting, Ruth has made the most of that final chance, and is currently in the midst of one of the biggest turnarounds that the staff has ever seen. Not only has Ruth rededicated himself to his schoolwork, but the Dallas native has transformed himself into a leader on and off the field for the team.

On top of that, Ruth is looking at an expanded role heading into his final season with the team. Once kept to a primarily special teams role, Ruth now finds himself as the likely starter at the “star” position on Iowa State’s defense, much to the delight of the team’s coaching staff.

“To be honest with you, this is my 14th or 15th season, he’s made the most growth of a young man that I’ve ever seen,” said cornerbacks coach D.K. McDonald. “It’s remarkable, and it’s all a credit to De’Monte deciding that he wants to be the player that he can be. I’m extremely proud of him.”

In addition to fixing his academic prospects, which he says have never been better, Ruth said that the other major factor in his turnaround was a willingness to get out of his comfort zone.  

Ruth said that for a time, he struggled with trust issues and couldn’t open up to his teammates or coaches as a result. Slowly, however, Ruth started to come out of his shell thanks to the support and welcoming nature of his teammates.

“This great team of mine, they’ll do it for you,” Ruth said. “If everyone would’ve known me a couple of years ago, I came from a rough place. It was really hard to put my trust in people so that’s where I developed most is trusting.”

Eventually, that trust extended beyond his teammates and finally to the coaches as well. Ruth said that a realization that he was getting older and heart-to-heart meetings with both Campbell and McDonald helped re-affirm his commitment to the program.

“(Campbell) told me what he expected out of me and he asked me if I could do it,” Ruth said. “I said yeah.”

As the 2017 season went on, Ruth proved that he could do it and ended up becoming a key contributor for the Cyclones in the secondary and on special teams. His best game statistically came against Texas, where he recorded seven tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a fumble recovery.

His best game may have also included his best moment as well. When the Cyclones took the field for that nationally-televised Thursday night game, Ruth ran out of the tunnel holding a shovel given to him by the team’s then-seniors.

The shovel is a team tradition that started last year in honor of Campbell’s “Move the Rock” slogan, and is given each week to a player that the senior class believes will play a key role in that upcoming game.  

For Ruth, the honor served as recognition for all the hard work that he put into turning things around at Iowa State.  

“He wanted to change and he made great strides,” fellow senior Brian Peavy said. “He’s always making progress every day. A guy that may not get all the pub, but a guy that always puts in the work.”

The way things look, that work will likely lead to Ruth playing a key role in 2018 for the Cyclones’ young but talented secondary.  

Ruth is currently one of only four upperclassmen listed on Iowa State depth chart in the secondary, and will likely play multiple roles for the team’s defense in addition to starting at the “star” position (which is, essentially, a third safety spot).

That’s something that was almost unthinkable for both Ruth and the coaching staff just a short time ago, and the high expectations serve as proof of the considerable progress that he’s made as a player and a person in that time.

And regardless of the results on the field this season, the turnaround of De’Monte Ruth serves as a success story and point of pride for a staff that’s worked tirelessly to create a positive culture. 

“De’Monte is a prime example of our program and guys that finally trusted (the coaching staff),” Campbell said. “That’s one of my favorite things about his situation. He easily was probably a step away form being out of here, now you see him as a guy that’s totally thriving in our program right now and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”