CHICO — Sam Ruffino made a name for himself in his final season with the Chico High football team, leading the Panthers to their first North Section championship since 1990 as an offensive and defensive captain and lineman.
On Friday, in front of his coaches and teammates, Ruffino signed his letter of intent to pursue his career as a college football player with Division II American International University in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“That’s all I’ve worked for in my life,” Ruffino said. “For the past four years, I’ve dedicated myself to getting to the next level and being able to play college football, and that’s just a blessing. I’ve had a lot of opportunities, but I’ve had a few visits and I found the right place.
Ruffino will play guard for American International and said he was ready to take the opportunity to leave California and explore the East Coast.
Chico High coach Jason Alvistur said after talks with Ruffino that he thought he was looking for a new adventure and something new.
“Chico is a great place to live, but I think people need to get out of here to appreciate it and see what the world has to offer,” Alvistur said. “Sam is doing this and he’s really excited to go to Massachusetts and see what the world has to offer.”
Alvistur said Ruffino is defined by one thing – the C on his chest that he wore his senior season. Ruffino led by example and with his voice, turning the culture around at Chico High after the Panthers made a playoff run in his second season but fell short. Ruffino’s senior season ended with a loss to Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in the Norcal Division DA Regional Finals at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
Ruffino was named Eastern Athletic League All Leagues and All Sections, and was named MVP All Sections.
“I think Sam really symbolizes our stepping up to the next level. We’ve had success getting to the playoffs for the past few years, but we couldn’t overcome that difficulty,” Alvistur said. “Sam was one of those who were like, ‘we have to do this, we have to take the next step.’ For a player to do that, I think he really upped the game for all of our guys. He’s a great leader, he led by example, he was the first one there, he worked the hardest and I’m really proud to have coached him and I really appreciate everything he has fact.
Ruffino said he’s seen the good and the bad of a locker room and hopes to take that to the next level in Massachusetts. He said American International coaches love the way he plays angry and physically and his ability to follow a “bad streak”.
“Anyone who gets in my way gets exposed to this stuff,” Ruffino said.
Ruffino knew his third year of football that he had the opportunity to play college football and thanked his coaches pop warner, as well as his coaches at Chico High. He said Alvistur, Chico High defensive coordinator Chris Clink and line coach Joel Rothenberger pushed him hard out of love because they wanted him to succeed.
Ruffino is the first Chico High football team player to sign since DJ Miller in 2016 when he signed with Army. Alvistur is proud to see Ruffino be the next to step up.
“I was really excited that he wanted to go to university and that he wanted to further his education and for me that’s the most important thing,” Alvistur said. “It just reflects the program we have of quality kids doing well in school and committing to something, so I’m really proud of him.”