Three's Up: The deeper meaning behind Ruggs' touchdown tribute

Henry Ruggs III has been running most of his life; on the gridiron and on the basketball court — and from the loss of his best friend.

Before he became a standout talent at the University of Alabama, Ruggs had no desire to put on a helmet and pads. For the longest time, the Alabama-native wanted to play in the NBA, and he certainly has the athleticism; however, his close friend Rod Scott knew he was capable of excelling in the NFL.

The two both grew up in Montgomery, Ala., and frequented the YMCA basketball courts. Rod's father, Roderic, managed the front desk and wanted to give his son, and the kids in the community, a safe place to play competitive sports. Rod and his father were typically the first ones to arrive every morning, but shortly after Ruggs would come walking in. The two became close through basketball, and it formed a life-long friendship.

Scott knew Ruggs better than anyone; we don't choose our family, but we can choose our friends. Scott was more than a friend to Henry — he was the only family he felt comfortable enough to talk to. After meeting at the YMCA, the friends' bond continued to grow at Lee High School, where they threw lobs to one another and occasionally switched jerseys for fun — Scott wore No. 3 and Ruggs wore No. 2. The two did everything together, and the recently drafted Las Vegas Raider valued his friend's opinion more than anyone.

So when Scott persistently pushed Ruggs to give football a chance, he listened.

"He said 'Ruggs, you're a five-star in football. You're a five-star. Give it a chance,'' recounted Nataki Ruggs, Henry's mother, to ESPN last year.

Ruggs was reluctant to try out for the team his freshman year. He only caught one pass that season in the final game of the year, and it wasn't the kind of highlight-reel play he'd later make at Alabama. But it caught the attention of Scott.

The following year, Ruggs remained uninterested in playing football, but peer pressure got the best of him in his junior year, and he gave it another go. Duped into suiting up, the dynamic athlete gained more playing time and quickly became a fixture on the team. Ruggs' friend continued to offer him words of encouragement, suggesting he would be a five-star recruit and helped paint a picture of what his future could have in store if he just stuck with it.

He wasn't wrong.

With the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders select wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.

A flurry of scholarship offers was sent Ruggs' way, including one from the University of Alabama, which Scott predicted. Shortly after, however, something happened to Scott that no one could've predicted.

On March 3, 2016, Scott was on his way to a state basketball tournament when the car he was riding in lost traction on a rainy, wet road, and crashed, killing him and injuring four others.

The news was devastating for Ruggs, especially because Ruggs usually drove Scott to games.

But the day before, Ruggs came down with a nasty flu that prevented him from attending the game. It's something that's weighed heavily on Ruggs, as he feels like if he'd gone, things could have happened differently.

Scott's passing was a shock to the community, but no one took it harder than Ruggs. Henry visited his teammate's grave 10 hours a week after he passed but still tried to run from confronting his reality by avoiding family and mourning in his room alone.

His senior year, Ruggs decided to commit his athletic gifts fully to football and trust in his lost friend's advice. From that point on, every time he took the field and every time he scored it was "3's Up." If you watched Ruggs at Alabama, you may have noticed him hold three fingers in the air, and it's in honor of Rod Scott.

"Wanting to be great, wanting to be the best in everything, the confidence that he gave is a part of me forever," Ruggs told ESPN.

If it wasn't for Scott, Ruggs would've never considered football as a realistic path, and it's for that reason he'll continue to pay tribute to him in the NFL.

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