FGCU sports history could simply portray Albert Ruiz as a star soccer player who is the university’s career points leader. But behind each goal, each game-winning kick, was a young man’s belief in himself and a family who defined his character.
Five years after coming to the U.S. knowing little English and less about the ways of this country, Ruiz earned his bachelor’s degree in business management from FGCU this month, finishing his degree online.
He did it from Spain, where he’s playing soccer for the Esport Club, Granollers, and managing a company that helps acquire U.S. college scholarships for soccer players in Spain.
Ruiz had a stellar career at FGCU, leading the nation in goals (22) and points as a junior in 2016. He was named a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top soccer player each year. Invited to participate in the Major League Soccer Combine, he decided to leave school and try his luck.
He wasn’t drafted by a U.S. team but did play some preseason games with the Chicago Fire. When he didn’t land a pro contract in the United States, he returned to Barcelona and signed on with the Granollers. Once he was settled, he decided to finish his degree this summer.
Ruiz grew up in Barcelona, Spain. Like most children in Spain, he didn’t need toy trucks or video games to occupy his time. He only wanted a soccer ball. He was kicking by age 2. When birthdays and Christmases rolled around, he only wanted another ball to replace the one he’d worn out.
“In Barcelona, soccer is like a religion,” Ruiz said. “I played soccer because in (Spain) it was all about soccer.” He liked other sports, but excelled at soccer.
Life wasn’t all sports though. His parents also taught him the importance of family, education and hard work.
“We are a very close family. We lived in the same neighborhood, next to each other – uncles and cousins,” Ruiz said. “We were always family oriented. They are very important in my life.”
He knew that although he was skilled, his soccer abilities would not take him to Spain’s highest level – the national team – and he’d need a college education. “I thought moving to the U.S. was the best option to keep playing at a high level and studying for a degree at the same time,” Ruiz said. “I wasn’t giving up, just being realistic. I didn’t want to be one of those kids who wanted to be what they couldn’t be – the next Michael Jordan. I think that comes from my parents.”
After spending a month working for his uncle in a factory cleaning machines that protect the environment, he was certain he needed a college degree.
“That was a wake-up experience,” Ruiz said.
He found FGCU through connections built by playing on various soccer teams in Spain. He won a soccer scholarship and headed to the U.S. after graduating from high school in 2014.
“I was getting too comfortable in Spain,” the 24-year-old said. “It was the change I needed in my life. My adaptation was pretty easy. I loved my teammates and loved the people from my school.”
FGCU soccer coach Jesse Cormier, who coached Ruiz for his senior season in 2017, saw a skilled player instilled with toughness and tons of leadership qualities.
“He was very willing to sacrifice his body for his team,” Cormier said. “During games, he would encourage guys and urge them on … but he also wasn’t afraid to call them out, wanting them to play harder, fight harder.”
Ruiz also knows how to get the most out of himself. Besides his high-scoring junior season, he broke a 43-year-old NCAA Division I record with three goals in nine minutes against Rutgers. Ruiz considers his proudest soccer moment making the winning penalty kick to beat the University of South Florida for FGCU’s first NCAA tournament win three years ago.
“Everything came together. Everything clicked. It was an amazing moment,” Ruiz said.
Ashley Kuhn, an academic advisor for FGCU Athletics, worked with Ruiz to finish his degree online.
“It’s really hard for this generation of students to figure things out, but his ability to figure things out on his own was really impressive,” Kuhn said.
He relies on both his values and college degree while playing soccer and running Talent Sports USA, the company he manages that has helped land scholarships for six players. He hopes to help 10 to 15 more players get scholarships over the next year.
Ruiz continues to live in Barcelona with his girlfriend, Ashley Glickert (’18, Business Management), a former beach volleyball player for the Eagles.
“I work hard to be a good person,” he said. “I try and be the best I can be every day. That was the example my family set.”