Philadelphia Eagles rookie WR DeVonta Smith plays with ‘bigger purpose’ after events involving former teammate Henry Ruggs

PHILADELPHIA — Eagles rookie receiver DeVonta Smith said the tragic events involving his good friend, and former roommate, Henry Ruggs III gave him a “bigger purpose” for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, in which he led his team with five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown.

“First off, my heart breaks for everybody that was involved, the family of the young lady that lost her life,” Smith said. “It was rough at the beginning [of the week], but just coming in every day, being with the guys, they kind of gathered with me, helped me out a lot.”

Ruggs is facing multiple felony charges, including driving under the influence resulting in death and reckless driving, following a fatal accident in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Ruggs was driving 156 mph with a blood alcohol content twice Nevada’s legal limit before his car slammed into the rear of a vehicle that burned, killing a 23-year-old woman, according to prosecutors.

Smith and Ruggs were teammates at the University of Alabama from 2017 to ’19. They roomed together, challenged each other to get better on the field, and according to Smith, served as confidents for one another. Prior to the Week 7 matchup between the Eagles and Raiders, Smith revealed that he and Ruggs communicate daily as part of a text chain for former Alabama receivers that also includes Jerry Jeudy and Jaylen Waddle. They had also stayed close by playing the video game NBA2K together, just like they had at college.

Smith credits Ruggs, who was selected 12th overall by the Raiders in the 2020 NFL Draft, for helping him with his transition to the NFL.

“It kind of gave me a bigger purpose,” Smith said, when asked how difficult it was to play Sunday. “Just going out there, playing for my brother, knowing he can’t play right now.”

The Raiders released Ruggs late Tuesday, just hours after the crash and shortly after he was released from a hospital and booked into a Las Vegas jail. The extent of his injuries was not disclosed, although Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said outside court that he believed Ruggs suffered a leg injury.

Ruggs’ girlfriend, identified by police as Kiara Je’nai Kilgo-Washington, 22, of Las Vegas, was with him in the car and was also injured in the crash. She underwent surgery Tuesday for a severe arm injury, authorities said.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts also played with Ruggs at Alabama for two seasons.

“Obviously, I have a lot of love for DeVonta. I love him like a brother. I have a lot of love for Henry Ruggs as well. I love him like a brother,” he said. “My ‘Bama brother. It’s tough for all of us to experience what we experienced this week, how tragic of a situation it was. But we’re all warriors and we all see it through. DeVonta made some big-time plays today and he’ll continue to do that for us.”

Smith said that he’s talked to Ruggs since the accident, that they “discussed everything” and described Ruggs as being “in good spirits.”

“I’m just glad that he’s himself, he’s gotten himself together and he’s not just down on himself,” Smith said.

Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and 10th-overall selection this past April, eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second time this season and tied the game at 24-24 late in the fourth quarter with his second touchdown of the year. The Chargers answered with a field goal to drop the Eagles to 3-6.

Smith leads the Eagles in targets (62), catches (38) and receiving yards (537) through nine games.

ESPN staff writer Paul Gutierrez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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