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December 13, 2010
It's only natural to look at the premiere football players in the country with a bit of awe when you are a walk-on kicker who didn't even play the sport in high school.
That's true for David Ruffer, even if you've made all 20 of your collegiate field goal attempts, including all 15 in 2010, which then lands you a spot on the dais in Orlando, Fla., for the prestigious Lou Groza Place-Kicker Award.
"It was pretty cool seeing guys you watch on TV," said Ruffer of the awards ceremony last Wednesday in which Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey came away with the trophy. "Cam Newton is a monster. He's one of the biggest guys I've ever seen. He's also one of the nicest guys. He's really down to earth. He's got a good head on his shoulders.
"But all the other guys, people you watch on ESPN top 10 every week?it was kind of cool. I didn't want to be that kid like, 'Mr. Newton, could I have your autograph?' But it was definitely a cool experience."
Ruffer would like another cool experience in 2011 at one of his favorite places in the world - the University of Notre Dame. After earning his undergraduate degree from the College of Arts and Letters in economics this spring, he would prefer to come back for another season and kick for the Fighting Irish.
"I'd love to," said Ruffer of his potential return to Notre Dame next year.
"I just like being here. I think the team is going to do great things next year, but at the same time, I know there's a process. I've got to apply for it and the numbers have to match up. It's something I'd be interested in, but other things have to work out that are out of my control."
One of the things out of Ruffer's control is a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. Ruffer has interviewed with several companies about a job after graduation. But he's put much of that process on hold for now as he pursues an additional year with the Irish. To come back, he would need a football scholarship.
"Financially, it would be a pretty big investment just to come back and kick," Ruffer said. "It would be pretty contingent on a scholarship because it's such a huge investment, it's such a huge amount of money."
If Brian Kelly has anything to say about it - which, of course, he does - Ruffer will be back in a Notre Dame uniform next season.
"Obviously, we're talking to him about whether he wants to come back for another year," Kelly said. "How do you not bring a guy back who's had that kind of success? But David is a pretty successful student. He's going to be graduating. Maybe he's got a job lined up at one of the newspapers."
Kelly has stood back in a bit of amazement at Ruffer's incredible success in 2010.
"The thing that David did more than anything else is he showed a consistency from short to long that most field goal kickers don't give you," Kelly said. "For example, there's generally the guy who kicks the long field goals versus the guy who's a little more accurate. He's gone from short to long and has been just as effective.
"He came out of nowhere so that was the surprise. Then from the execution standpoint, he can hit them from all distances and all hashes, and you don't see that very often."
Another thing that sets Ruffer apart from most kickers - in addition to his perfect record kicking field goals - is his unflappable nature. He doesn't allow circumstances beyond his control to come into play.
"I try to treat every kick the same way, whether it's 50 yards or 20 yards," said Ruffer, who was a soccer player and golfer at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.
"That's how I look at it. I try not to get too weirded out by being on the hash or in the middle. Actually, I think we only had one kick this year that wasn't on the hash. I just try to treat them all the same and control what I can control, and that's myself, not where the ball is."
Another thing that sets Ruffer's field goal attempts apart is the straightness of his kicks. Most kickers play a hook or a fade. Ruffer's kicks are almost always clothesline straight.
"I'll hit some draws and I'll hit some fades in practice," Ruffer said. "Some of the balls curve a little bit. It's not anything I do special. I just try to make sure I make good contact with the ball every time with the front of the foot. I can't say there's any one thing I do to make the ball go straight."
Although Ruffer stops short of saying that he'll be back in a Notre Dame uniform next season, he did admit that he's put his job search on hold.
Maybe that first job will be in the National Football League.
"I haven't really thought about that at all," Ruffer said. "People ask and I shrug it off. That's 13 months down the road, at least."
For now, Ruffer would rather just keep living in the surreal world.
"It's a dream just to play and be on the team at Notre Dame," Ruffer said. "Succeeding and being an integral part of the team has been more than a dream. It's just been awesome.
"I don't know if I'd call me Rudy. He had a lot more circumstances working against him than I have. But it's also real cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as him. I've had a lot of stuff going for me along the way that has helped me out."
And what were the odds of this happening to Ruffer?
"Probably pretty high against me, but that's what hard work does," Ruffer smiled. "It defeats those odds."