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October 9, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Consider Brandon Walker an informal swing coach.
Notre Dame's former starting kicker spent most of last week working with current kicker David Ruffer on hitting a little bit of a draw as opposed to just a straight drive through the uprights.
When it came time for Ruffer to line up a 50-yard attempt in the third quarter, not just to extend the Irish lead but to set a school record for most consecutive field goals made, he lined up for about a foot and a half of draw.
Turns out Walker's lessons worked fine. Ruffer nailed the attempt with plenty of distance for his 15th straight made field goal, breaking the tie the walk-on shared with sophomore Nick Tausch. It was also the longest field goal for an Irish kicker since D.J. Fitzpatrick connected on a 50-yarder against Syracuse in 2003.
"Cooler than that is the points made a big difference in the game," Ruffer said. "I feel like if I do my job and help the team do whatever they can, doing my job to help the team win, that stuff will take care of itself. It's just kind of gravy. But yeah, definitely more important that the points came at a crucial time of the game."
The golf analogy between Walker and Ruffer isn't exactly a coincidence, either.
Ruffer grew up playing soccer but abandoned it after his freshman year of high school to concentrate on golf. Eventually he became a scratch golfer - now he's about a five handicap - but he and his friends would every once in awhile jump on the football field and try some kicks.
After high school Ruffer enrolled at William & Mary but transferred to Notre Dame, where his father and some other relatives went. After his freshman year he started kicking for Siegfried Hall during interhall games. But with the varsity football team in need of a kicker during the 2008 season, Ruffer walked on and earned a place on the team.
He hasn't missed a field goal since.
Against Pitt, Ruffer connected from 32 yards, 50 yards and 31 yards. That final field goal came early in the fourth quarter and ensured that the Panthers couldn't settle for a field goal of their own to tie the game late.
Something about that golf background has helped Ruffer on Saturdays.
"There's definitely some correlation," Ruffer said. "You have to keep your head down and follow through. Those are basically the key points because if you come off it a little bit, come out of it a little bit, the ball's not gonna fly straight. The golf background's definitely helped me understand what the ball is doing football-wise."
Nothing about Ruffer's walk-on-to-record-holder story has changed anything about his approach to the game. Credit a couple other specialists for keeping things on an even keel.
Ruffer counts holder Ryan Kavanagh and short snapper Bill Flavin as his best friends and each do their part to keep Ruffer in tune with what he needs to do as they trot out onto the field for another attempt, even if it's no chip shot with a record on the line.
In a lot of ways it takes Ruffer back to a time when he was more focused on golf than kicking field goals in front of 80,000 people at Notre Dame Stadium.
"We just kind of go out like little school kids," Ruffer said, "like going and playing on the playground. We have that kind of mentality. It really helps take the edge off of it really."