How many times have you heard the expression, “Hard work never killed anyone?” It is pretty much certain that this has been a common statement, notably from your parents, heard quite frequently as you were growing up.
The aforementioned statement applies to many different aspects in a person’s life, and it truly applies to a 5’ 10”, 190-pound running back from Blackhawk High School. His name is Jeremy Bruce, and he has made himself into a standout football player through a combination of determination and good old-fashioned hard work. There wasn’t any secret in what he did, but he knew that if he could outwork everyone else, he could get to the top of the heap.
Here’s a player who just year was 5’ 8” and weighed 168 pounds. After intensive workouts in the off-season, he not only put on 22 pounds of muscle, but grew 2 inches also. That growth turned him into a true, bonafide Division One prospect.
Yes, a lot of people knew that he was good, but whether or not he had the size to compete on the Division One level remained to be seen until his growth spurt. Since that spurt, Bruce has proven that he was ready to make the move up on the recruiting ladders. He attended the Nike Combine at Penn State and received one of the top three scores out of 450 players who attended the camp. His time in the forty was 4.4, his vertical jump was 41 inches, and his 20-yard shuttle was the most impressive at 3.91.
Did his performance at the combine help at all? He stated, “There isn’t any doubt that it helped. Before the camp, I heard from no schools. They didn’t realize who I was until the Nike Combine. I had to show them that I was worthy of being a Division One recruit.”
Since then, he has verbally committed to West Virginia University, a decision with which he feels truly comfortable. He said, “West Virginia was the first school to really notice me, and they were the first to make an offer. They always contend for a BCS Bowl game. They are always extremely competitive, and the coaches were always straight up with me during the entire recruiting process. Coach (Rich) Rodriguez and Coach (Tony) Gibson (defensive backs coach), both said that they wanted me as a Mountaineer, and they were honest about everything. That’s important to me. It’s also important that I can call and talk to them anytime about anything. It was just a relaxing feeling for me.”
He added, “My dad is a Penn State graduate, but he really wanted me to go to West Virginia. That says a lot about him. He just wants what is best for me and wants me to be happy. He liked West Virginia a lot when we visited. How can you not like that place? The West Virginia fans are phenomenal, also, and the entire atmosphere is exciting. I was getting tired of the recruiting process anyway. It was time, and I am very happy with my decision.”
Since he is projected to be used as a slot receiver, this will be his final year to run the ball for his team. He stated, “I think that Coach Hamilton will put me in the slot a little this year. I need to work on perfecting pass patterns. They have to be more precise, and once I get the ball in the open field, I feel than I have a chance to take it all the way.”
Bruce turned down offers from Kent State, Temple, and Akron, and more than likely would have received even more offers had he not already committed to West Virginia, but the decision has been made and he can now enjoy his senior season with Blackhawk.
Bruce’s coach, long time mentor, Joe Hamilton, said, “Jeremy will do very well at West Virginia. I am sure that they are looking at him as a slot receiver. They want him to get in the open field, get him the ball, and let him run. He has this tremendous ability to cut, and he moves sideways as fast as he does forward, it seems.”
Hamilton also stated, “I guess the best way to describe Jeremy is to use the word “intense”. This kid is amazing as he always gives more than 100%, not only in games, but also in practice. At times, some of his teammates get upset with him since he never lets up, but in the long run, he ends up helping to make them better players. You can always feel the highly charged emotion when he steps on the football field.”
Bruce admits that he plays extremely hard and that is his style. He said, “That’s the only way I know how to play the game. I worked very hard to get where I am, and I am not going to let up now that I am where I want to be. There still is more room for improvement though.”
His performances in the past have shown that he is a quality player and knows how to win. His drive and will to win was evident in a game last year against rival Hopewell. He said, “We were losing that game by two scores with three minutes left in the game. We scored, recovered an onsides kick, and with just three seconds remaining in the game, we completed a “Hail Mary pass to win the game, 29-26. It was a great win, and the feeling was unbelievable. That’s what football is all about in my opinion.”
It isn’t surprising to know that Bruce, like many others, started out playing soccer, and in his case, he didn’t think it was physical enough and easily made the switch to football. His mother actually wanted him to take an interest in tennis, but that didn’t develop at all. She said, “Jeremy is a sweet, good kid who is constantly moving all the time. When he was younger, I wanted him to take up tennis since I enjoy playing, but it was too boring for him. He has an older brother, Scott, who also played football at Blackhawk and Jeremy followed in his footsteps. It seemed like it was the natural thing for him to do, and it has been very rewarding for him and his family, of course.”
She also indicated that she wasn’t real happy, at first, about his playing football. She commented, “No, I didn’t like it too much at first. Like all mothers, I guess, I was afraid that he would get hurt, but he loved the game, and we never had to push him at all. He’s happy playing football and pushes himself to be the best that he can be. He’s a joy to watch and it’s nice to know that he is good at what he does.”
Hamilton can’t disagree with that assessment. He said, “Jeremy never eases up at all. He is one of our captains and he leads in every way. His example is unparalleled because of his hustle, but he can get vocal and get on his teammates when he has to. He is a competitor and a hustler always.”
Because of his competitiveness, Bruce set the Blackhawk single season rushing record last year with 1,768 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. He was named All-Conference First Team Running Back, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette West Fab 22, Associated Press First Team Class AAA Running Back, Pennsylvania Football News Second Team Class AAA Running Back, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette First Team Running Back, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review First Team Running Back, and was named Honda City Player of the Game.
He also ran track and played baseball for the Cougars, but probably his most enjoyable pastime is lifting weights. He has developed into an exceptionally strong player. He squats 500 pounds, dead lifts 500 pounds, and bench presses 325 pounds.
In the initial game of the season, Bruce rushed for 231 yards to help his Cougars to a 35-7 win over neighboring Beaver Falls, but knows that this season will be a little more difficult than last year. He said, “Last year we were a lot bigger up front. This year we are smallish up front, but I still think we can have a great year. We made it to the WPIAL semi-finals last year and lost, so we have some unfinished business to do. We lost a tough, 20-17, decision to Pine-Richland, and they went to Hershey and played for the championship. We’d like to do that this year.”
He added, “I know that I am going to have to go both ways to help us win, but I am prepared to do so. I just want to be on the field as much as possible.”
This past Friday night, the affable senior was on the field the entire time and helped lead the Cougars to a 21-14 win over a very strong Thomas Jefferson team. His 76-yard punt return gave his team a 14-0 lead in the game and they held on to win. He also rushed for 133 yards in that contest. He has now rushed for 306 yards in the Cougar’s first two football games this year.
Coach Hamilton knows how important it is to have Bruce on the field as much as possible. He said, “Jeremy is a very smart athlete, and his play always seems to elevate the play of the other guys on the teams. He is just a quality player for us, and he is a good kid to have around.”
His mother had another perspective on her son’s ability. She said, “When Jeremy was young, he always followed his older brother and when Scott was practicing, Jeremy was doing calisthenics on the sidelines. He always looked up to the older players, and just being in the Blackhawk environment hyped him up a lot. Blackhawk has always had a winning tradition and that seems to help the players here.”
Bruce also knows that without his coaches, he wouldn’t be where he is today. He commented, “I can’t say enough about Coach Hamilton. He’s a great coach and a great guy. He’s like my dad, just a caring guy. I guess the best thing about Coach Hamilton is no matter how emotional he gets, or no matter how angry he gets, he never, ever swears. But, he is still a hard-nosed guy who loves to see hard hitting in a game. He gets a tremendous amount of respect from all the players on the team.”
Hamilton’s philosophy is rather simple concerning the non-swearing. “I look at it this way. First of all, there is no need for that kind of language. I never swore at my own kids, why should I swear at someone else’s kid?. We have this little game on the practice field. If a player slips up and swears, he has to do a sprint for every letter of the swear word. It’s kind of fun and even funny because players squeal on the other kids if that happens. One word that we consider a swear word is the word “Can’t” (contraction of the word “cannot”). That one is worth six sprints! We have fun with it, but it also teaches these kids some values.”
Speaking of having fun, Bruce considers himself a fun-type guy. “Actually”, he said, “I’m kind of a goofy kid. Outside of football, I like to goof around with my friends and have fun. I am sort of laid back and forget about things that don’t really matter very easily. Life is just too short to hold grudges. I say, forgive and forget and let’s move on.”
In his spare time, Bruce likes to fish, but mostly hang out with his buddies at the mall or wherever they decide to go on any particular night. He used to race motor cross, but the potential danger of the sport caused him to give that sport up.
What’s in store for Bruce in the future? “Well”, he said, “I want to study History at West Virginia and hopefully someday, I would like to coach football. That is one of my goals, but right now, I just want to help our team win and go as far as we can go in the playoffs.”
It is never a certainty what team is going to win any football game on any given Friday night, but there is one certainty when Blackhawk plays. That is, Jeremy Bruce will work hard and give more than 110% on the football field. You can take that to the bank!
We wish to thank the Pennsylvania Football News for allowing us to run this article from their most recent print edition. The Pennsylvania Football News is the most widely read and respected publication covering Pennsylvania High School football, and we're happy to continue our association with them!