Cameron Ruff ’13 has always excelled at paving pathways for others.
As an offensive lineman at the University of South Florida following a stellar football career at Jesuit, Ruff became a four-year letter winner and staple in the trenches for the Bulls. He was the team’s 2016 Offensive Lineman of the Year and a 2017 All-Conference selection.
Today, Ruff is no longer paving the way for football stars such as USF’s Marlon Mack or Jesuit’s Kevin Newman ’15, but for young students at Trinity School for Children and Jesuit Summer Bridge (JSB), the school’s summer program for local middle school boys. The former USF lineman is now teaching 7th-grade math at Trinity and, for the second-straight year, critical thinking at JSB.
Ruff is one of numerous alumni who have circled back to Jesuit to help guide the summer bridge program. Jonathan Barlaan ’07, who teaches science at Jesuit, has been part of JSB for six years. Jake Pedrero ’12, who teaches social studies at Plant High, is in his third summer teaching JSB. And Robert Morrison ’19, who worked as a JSB counselor as a student, has returned this summer as a graduate counselor.
Ruff’s route to teaching took an indirect path – briefly. After graduating from USF in 2017 with a degree in Business Management and Marketing, Ruff began to pursue a career in real estate. However, it wasn’t until he actually interviewed with firms that he realized his calling was elsewhere.
“I went to a couple of firms and they always asked me at the end (of the interview) what do I want to do,” Ruff said. “The only answer I could always provide them was I just want to help people.”
Ruff connects his deep-seated desire to help others with his time as a student. At his graduation from Jesuit in 2013, Ruff received the Bro. Joseph P. Gavan, S.J. Award, given to the student who has been outstanding in generosity and dependability in service to the school community. He said this fire was rekindled when he returned to Himes Ave. to deliver a Convocation presentation in 2017 while still a student-athlete at USF.
“My time at Jesuit got me thinking more about the community and how I could get involved,” Ruff said. “I feel like that has been instilled in me and still is a part of what I do.”
While pondering a career in real estate, Ruff took a job as a substitute teacher at his grade school alma mater, Trinity. Things clicked, and the substitute job led to his current full-time position on the Trinity faculty. Suddenly, Ruff was embarking on a new career, one helping young people, before his original career plan ever got started.
Returning to Trinity also prompted Ruff’s Jesuit homecoming with JSB, Jesuit’s unique summer program that Ruff’s mom, Kimberly, had helped to launch in 2011. In 2019, JSB was in need of a critical thinking teacher. Naturally, Ruff accepted the role, as well as another role at Jesuit – offensive line coach for the Tigers football team.
Now, as Jesuit Summer Bridge marks its 10th year of forming middle school boys, “Mr. Cam,” as the JSB students refer to him, challenges his students with riddles, brain games, and group activities.
One activity involved teams of students making a survival kit while stranded in a fantasy wilderness. With limited space in the kit, it was up to the students to think about their journey and determine what materials were most valuable under the circumstances.
“I’m trying get kids to think differently but also trying to bring them together,” Ruff said.
And while he enjoys challenging his students, Ruff said he finds particular joy in serving as mentor, especially since he once sat in those same desks at Jesuit and Trinity.
“These opportunities have come about from just opening myself up and trying to give back to the communities I feel have given so much to me,” Ruff said. “A ‘Men for Others’ attitude has been the No. 1 force in my life.”
Editor's note: Jesuit Summer Bridge is offered at a steeply discounted cost to the participants due to the generosity of benefactors, notably Nancy and Mike Petters '77. The Petters' have demonstrated a leadership commitment to JSB and to providing unique opportunities for local youths to experience a Jesuit education. Other benefactors include the Tiger Lilies, the club comprised of mothers of Jesuit alumni, who every year host special events for the JSB students.