Ray Ruschel plays college football in North Dakota at age 49

Ray Ruschel was standing in line to get his uniform after making the football workforce this summer time at North Dakota State College of Science when he seen a few of his teammates staring at him.

One of them requested him if he was a coach. Actually, no, he instructed them. He’s a participant.

“They had been like, ‘Really? Are you severe? How outdated are you?’ ” Ruschel mentioned.

Ruschel, a enterprise administration scholar at the two-year college in Wahpeton, is 49.

It is not daily {that a} night-shift employee in his late 40s decides to go to college, Ruschel acknowledged. It’s much more uncommon for somebody his age to check out for a workforce towards athletes three many years his junior — notably in a sport involving brute drive contact and a excessive threat of harm.

“When I made a decision to get an affiliate’s diploma and discovered there was a football workforce, I acquired to serious about it,” mentioned Ruschel, a defensive lineman who wears quantity 94. “And I made a decision, ‘Why not?’ “

Ruschel knew he would stand out, he mentioned, however he additionally knew he would not be the primary athlete to get on the sector whereas others his age had been content material to cheer from the stands.

Tom Brady is the oldest participant in the NFL at age 45, Udonis Haslem continues to be taking pictures baskets for the Miami Heat at age 42, and (*49*) Chara ended his twenty fourth season with the NHL final yr with the New York Islanders at age 44.

In college sports activities, Dan Stoddard, a 38-year-old bus driver from Ottawa, was recruited in 2017 to play basketball for the Algonquin Thunder. And till Ruschel got here alongside, the oldest college football participant in the nation was believed to be Tom Gore, who suited up final yr to play for North Carolina’s Methodist University at age 45.

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Ruschel mentioned he wasn’t considering of breaking a document when he known as the top coach of the Wildcats, Eric Issendorf, and requested him to offer him an opportunity. Ruschel had been understanding and was in good bodily situation.

“I really like the sport of football and I simply needed to play,” he mentioned. “I figured this was my alternative. If I attempted and failed, I’d have at least tried.”

The largest remorse could be to do nothing, he determined.

The final time Ruschel performed on a football workforce, he was a senior at Trinity High School in Washington, Pa. After he graduated in 1992, he mentioned, he joined the US Army, then the Army National Guard and ended up in Wahpeton, about an hour’s drive from Fargo, in 2018.

Ruschel is the daddy of two grown kids and has been single since 2012, he mentioned. He works the midnight-to-8 am shift as a mechanic at Minn-Dak Farmer’s Cooperative, a big sugar beet processor in the guts of the Red River Valley.

He enrolled in on-line lessons at North Dakota State College of Science earlier this yr, he mentioned, with the purpose of incomes a enterprise administration diploma and turning into a supervisor at his work. The college has about 3,000 college students.

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“When a good friend of mine instructed me the college had a football program, I appeared into it and did my analysis, and I discovered that as a scholar, I might play football,” Ruschel mentioned. “So I known as Coach Issendorf.”

Issendorf, 48, mentioned he was shocked to be taught {that a} 49-year-old Army veteran needed to play on his workforce, which competes as a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

“He’s a yr and one month older than me,” he mentioned. “I instructed him, ‘Wow, I’ll have to actually give it some thought. This is unchartered territory.’ “

Several months later, when Ruschel dropped by his workplace to introduce himself and ask once more about enjoying football, Issendorf mentioned they mentioned the professionals and cons of getting a participant on the workforce who was nearly 50.

“One of the issues I needed to weigh was Ray’s security and the security of our gamers,” he mentioned. “Football is a younger man’s sport.”

“If a man is consistently getting knocked over or falling into different guys’ legs, he in all probability should not be on the workforce,” Issendorf mentioned. “But Ray appeared like he was match, and he actually needed to play. So we determined to judge him.”

Ruschel was invited to the Wildcats’ football camp in July to see if he might maintain his personal as a defensive lineman with gamers who had been 30 years his junior — most of whom had been in reality youthful than his personal kids.

“Was I nervous? Of course,” he mentioned. “I used to be questioning if the blokes would settle for me. They’re younger and have quite a lot of expertise, and right here comes this outdated man.”

As it turned out, he did not want to fret.

“On the primary day of camp, we thought he was a brand new coach, so yeah, we had been undoubtedly stunned when he mentioned, ‘No, I’m truly enjoying,'” mentioned Preston Yohnke, 20.

“But after we noticed what he might do, we had been impressed,” he added. “To be 49 and competing fairly effectively on the line of defense? That’s loopy. Ray earned our respect.”

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The gamers have taken him in as certainly one of their very own, mentioned Will Katchmark, 19.

“Ray is a very onerous employee — he plays his coronary heart out,” he mentioned. “He asks us how he can do higher, and he is prepared to be taught. He needs to be handled the identical as another man on the workforce.”

Issendorf mentioned Ruschel has been nice for the workforce each on and off the sector.

“He’s good for our program and he is good for our youngsters,” he mentioned. “He’s in a position to step up and discuss to the youthful youngsters on the workforce about what a loss means. He teaches them that there’s extra to life than successful. It’s about giving it your greatest.”

Ruschel has performed in the Wildcats’ first three video games (they gained two), and he mentioned he is now trying ahead to his first away sport on Sept. 24 when his workforce takes on Vermilion Community College in Ely, Minn.

“I assume that I’ll be driving the bus with the workforce, in order that must be enjoyable,” he mentioned.

More than something, although, he is trying ahead to the response of the opposing workforce after they see him on the line of defense.

“I do know I’ll get quite a lot of bizarre seems to be, and someone will say, ‘Man, look at that — they have an outdated dude on the workforce,'” Ruschel mentioned.

“That all the time makes me giggle,” he mentioned. “And then, I play more durable.”

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