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August 16, 2011
David Ruffer is a no frills football player. He doesn't call attention to himself, doesn't demonstratively celebrate his successes on the field, doesn't agonize over his failures for all the world to see.
Ruffer, the former walk-on from Virginia who is now a fifth-year senior for the Irish, just goes about his business of doing his job, which is - at least according to the blueprint he established last season - making virtually every field goal attempt he tries.
"I feel great," said Ruffer, the Oakton, Va., product who made his first 18 field-goal attempts in 2010 to extend his personal streak to 23.
"I'm trying to replicate my preparation from last season since that worked out well. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just trying to do the same things I did last season: the preparation in the weight room, the flexibility and lots of kicking."
Ruffer won the placekicking duties last August over Nick Tausch after effectively replacing an injured Tausch at the end of the 2009 season by nailing all five of his field-goal attempts.
Ruffer's accuracy in the 2010 pre-season was too much for Brian Kelly and his staff to ignore, particularly when he debuted with a 3-for-3 effort against Purdue in the season-opener, including a 46-yarder.
And the streak continued?Four in a row (nine overall) with his successful 24-yard attempt against Michigan?A 33-yarder in overtime against Michigan State?Two more against Stanford, including a 40-yarder?Another against Boston College from 37 yards out?A three-for-three effort against Pittsburgh, including a 50-yarder?Thirty-three and 45-yarders against Western Michigan and Navy respectively?No attempts against Tulsa and Utah, but two successful boots against Army, including a 47-yarder in Yankee Stadium?No attempts against USC in the rain to conclude the regular season, but three in a row to start the Sun Bowl against Miami, including a 50-yarder.
Ruffer's streak ended against the Hurricanes due more to injury than inaccuracy. His leg was bothering him in the second half, but he insisted on attempting a 36-yarder in the third quarter anyway. The streak was over, but Ruffer's miss only inspired him to work harder during the off-season after he was awarded a scholarship for a fifth year of eligibility in 2011.
"I like to say that you're only as good as your worst kick," said Ruffer, who graduated from the College of Arts and Letters with a degree in economics last spring, and is currently enrolled in the graduate studies program.
"So if there's one kick in practice that you don't like, then you go out there with the mentality of, 'I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen again. I'm going to make sure that my worst kick is better than that one.'
"A lot of times, making improvement isn't making your best kick better; it's making your worst kick better."
The days of discussing his humble beginnings at Notre Dame have faded to the backdrop now that Ruffer has established himself as one of the most deadly accurate place-kickers in the country.
You know the story, when he was plucked from the student body during his sophomore year in 2008. The William & Mary transfer had participated in the first two interhall games for Siegfried Hall as a wide receiver/kicker, but Charlie Weis needed his help.
His only attempt in 2008 was a missed extra point at Washington. He shared kickoff duties with Tausch in '09, and then replaced an injured Tausch on placekicks over the final three games.
"The Streak" began at Pittsburgh when Ruffer nailed a 42-yarder midway through the second quarter. He converted 20-, 23- and 36-yarders the following week in a double-overtime loss to Connecticut. He added another 42-yarder in the regular-season finale at Stanford. More than a year and another 18 attempts would transpire before his injury-related miss.
"Once from humble roots, always humble roots," said of his off-season mindset. "There's always something you can improve upon. There's always room for improvement. So that's how I've looked at it. If I let up at all, that's a let-up in the special teams and a let-up in the team, and that absolutely can't happen."
Ruffer had a very specific plan during the off-season: find ways to improve himself physically for the 2011 season.
"I tried to focus a lot on my flexibility and my core work," said Ruffer who, ironically, has missed five of 51 career extra-point attempts, including three last season. "There's a lot of torque in a swing. If your core isn't strong, your stability won't be there.
"So a lot of my off-season was strengthening my core, not so much my abs, but the under layer of muscles there. A lot of flexibility in my leg, my back, some of it was to just put on weight to be sturdier so the swing is a little tighter.
"Longer follow through, more fluid, longer cock back altogether so the arc is longer. It's the same thing with a golf swing. Very loose, fluid motions, only it's the lower body instead of the upper body."
When Ruffer can't get the exact feel that he's looking for on the field or can't figure out the specific nuances of the problem, he'll look at film to detect a flaw or even a slight change in routine.
"I've matured," Ruffer said. "I've been kicking for four years. I'm learning new stuff all the time, so there's definitely a learning curve with it."
Part of that maturity is safely tucking away his 2010 results.
"Those are numbers from last season, and I'm not in the habit of looking retrospectively," Ruffer said. "I like looking forward, being proactive. All that stuff is great, but all that matters is the preparation right now and how guys are doing right now because a lot of times, guys do get complacent. They may have been a starter last season and then they slack off."
According to Kelly, there's been no drop in Ruffer's performance from last season to this pre-season.
"He's been David Ruffer," said Kelly with a smile Saturday. "Very consistent."
When it comes to his approach, nothing changes with Ruffer.
"If you are a starter, you've got to fight against complacency," Ruffer said. "The saying is if you're No. 1, train like you're No. 2."