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November 25, 2010

Ruffer's excellence rewarded

It only makes sense that the kicker who knows only perfection when it comes to kicking field goals would be cited for his near perfection in the classroom.

Senior David Ruffer (Oakton, Va.), who has made all 15 of his field goal attempts this season and all 20 in his career, has been named a finalist for the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award and is a first-team ESPN Academic All-American.

Ruffer joins Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey and Southern Mississippi's Danny Hrapmann as finalists for the prestigious kicking award. No Irish kicker had been a finalist previously in the 18 years of the award. The winner will be announced on the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show on Dec. 9. Ruffer remains the only FBS kicker in the country who has not missed a field goal this season.

Ruffer is the 31st Notre Dame football player (37 selections total) to be cited as an Academic All-American. Notre Dame has had 218 Academic All-Americans in all sports (since 1952). That ranks second nationally. Notre Dame's 92 Academic All-Americans since 2000 is the most nationally.

But for the time being, Ruffer will set his awards aside and try to continue his incredible field goal streak when the Irish take on Southern California this weekend in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

"We're excited about it," Ruffer said. "USC is a great team with a lot of talent. We're not going to take anything for granted."

Ruffer extended his season and career streaks in Yankee Stadium last weekend when he connected on field goals from 47 and 39 yards.

"Yankee Stadium was interesting because for baseball, they always say the wind blows out," Ruffer said. "But what was weird was that in pre-game, it felt like the wind was blowing toward the infield. So I really couldn't figure it out.

"But that's one of the things you look for. You also look at the temperature and basically if it's cold, the ball is not going to fly as well. Those are the only two things that I think about, other than checking out the footing."

Ruffer's 47-yarder in the first quarter of the Army game was his first live field goal attempt since the first quarter of the Oct. 23 game against Navy. Ruffer said the four-week stretch between live field goal attempts was never a consideration.

"I didn't really think of it that way, that I hadn't kicked one in a while," Ruffer said. "I just think of it as my job, and I'm kicking in practice every day. I just try to do the same thing I always do."

Everywhere Ruffer turns, someone is reminding him of "the streak." Answering the question is as much a part of his routine as his daily/weekly kicking regimen.

"It is what it is," Ruffer said. "As long as it's on me, people are going to ask questions. I try not to pay attention to it."

Ruffer has tried to pace himself over the course of his first full season as the Notre Dame kicker.

"You take it week by week," Ruffer said. "Some weeks are better than others. The bye week was late this year, so towards that seventh, eighth week, your leg starts to get a little tired.

"You kick 70, 80 balls a week. Over the summer when I was training, it was at most 50 or 60. So those extra 20 or 30 balls don't sound like much, but it can wear you down. So you monitor it week by week, and when it's a little sore, I say, 'Hey, coach, can we take a few less reps today?'"

Ruffer's streak began in the 10th game of the 2009 season (Nov. 14 vs. Pittsburgh) when he took over for the injured Nick Tausch. His first attempt was a 42-yarder. He booted five field goals in the final three games of the 2009 season, including three in the double-overtime loss to Connecticut. The last attempt of the 2009 season was a 42-yarder against Stanford.

This season, he has converted field goals of 40 (vs. Stanford), 45 (Navy), 46 (Purdue) and 50 (Pittsburgh). Ruffer made three field goals against Purdue in an 11-point win and three against Pittsburgh in a six-point victory.

Ruffer has kicked field goals in seven stadiums - Notre Dame Stadium, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., the New Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., and Yankee Stadium in New York. Thirteen of his field goals have been at Notre Dame Stadium and the other seven have been on the road.

"I think about it sometimes, like 'I don't want to miss!'" Ruffer smiled. "I suppose if it came down to having to miss one, I certainly wouldn't want it to be a game-changer.

"With that said, I'd rather keep making them than miss one because right now, I don't feel any pressure that I haven't missed."

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