SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The days of breaking golf clubs in frustration are behind David Ruffer. You could say he’s kicked that bad habit.
The discipline he learned when he was standout prep golfer in Washington, D.C., — he still has a 4- or 5- handicap — has helped him on his new field as Notre Dame’s placekicker.
So far, the transfer student and walk-on who once kicked in dormitory football games on campus has been perfect on field goals. Stretching back to last season, the strong-legged Ruffer is 16 for 16, the most consecutive field goals in Notre Dame history.
“I had much higher expectations for golf for some reason than I ever did with football. I couldn’t tell you why,” said Ruffer, who didn’t play prep football.
“I broke a few clubs in my day. I don’t miss breaking the clubs because that got expensive, but hitting a good drive on a long par-5 was a cool feeling. But making field goals, that feels pretty good, too.”
Ruffer took over as place-kicker when Nick Tausch was injured last season and went 5 for 5 over the final three games. He said the similarities between golfing and kicking are fairly obvious.
“The biggest thing is that you have to stay focused on ever single shot or kick. Obviously there are great kickers who were never golfers, but for me that’s what I take from it the most,” he said. “You can’t take a play off. You can’t take a shot off.”
The 6-foot-1, 176-pound Ruffer beat out Tausch in preseason camp to be the place-kicker this year and hasn’t missed in 11 tries. Tausch had set the school record by making 14 straight last season. Ruffer took the record away with a 50-yarder against Pitt last week for No. 15, drilling the longest kick of his career despite a low snap.
A transfer from William & Mary, Ruffer participated in Notre Dame’s unique interhall dormitory competition, which is full pads and tackle with the championship game played in Notre Dame Stadium. He was a receiver and kicker for Siegfried Hall before he got three tryouts with the Irish then coached by Charlie Weis.
“I was really nervous because it was like, all right, these guys are going to see me for about 20 minutes and if I don’t do really well they probably won’t want to see me again,” Ruffer remembers.
But they did and served on the scout team in 2008. Last year, he was Tausch’s backup before Tausch hurt his foot.
Now he’s the main guy and a member of an unusual fraternity — his holder, Ryan Kavanagh, and snapper Bill Flavin are also walk-ons. Notre Dame’s success at times this season may wind up in the hands or on the foot of players who made the team without a scholarship.
New coach Brian Kelly acknowledged he had low expectations after hearing that one of his kickers had started in the interhall competition.
“We really didn’t know, I guess is the best way to put it, and now to see what he’s doing, obviously he’s exceeding all of the thoughts that we had,” Kelly said.
Ruffer, whose father and sister attended Notre Dame, said he’s matured and settled down. Kicking has taught him some lessons and how to relax — and he realizes, too, that one of these days he will miss a field goal.
“I was just really a perfectionist. Now I’ve grown up to the point where I understand that things aren’t always going to go your way,” he said. “I think that laid-back attitude has helped my focus. I want to enjoy this last season here.”