Before meeting his parents at midfield last Saturday, David Ruffer soaked in the moment. He took a last look around the Notre Dame Stadium locker room, noticed some of the flaking paint in that narrow walkway to the tunnel, then drank in the sound as he took the field in South Bend for the final time.
The big picture of Ruffer’s story has been well told, the transfer from William and Mary, the dorm kicker who won a mid-season job three years ago, the earning a scholarship last winter. Now Ruffer is one of the most prolific kickers in school history.
Forget the big picture before Senior Day, Ruffer looked little.
“I wish that I’d been mature enough to realize back when I was a sophomore just how special it was,” Ruffer said. “I just allowed myself, just for a few minutes, to take in the gravity of what I’ve done, how far this team has come, how much time I’ve spent with these guys and how hard we’ve worked to get to where we are in our football careers.”
Ruffer will exit Notre Dame with the longest field goal streak in school history at 23 straight and carries a run of eight straight makes to Stanford. He owns the third-best field goal percentage among active kickers in college football at 86.8 percent. He’s one of two Irish kickers with three 50-yard makes in their careers.
Where that career takes Ruffer after Stanford and Notre Dame’s bowl date might be to the NFL, a shot the fifth-year senior from Oakton, Va., wants. He’s already graduated with an economics degree and has been taking courses in the Mendoza School of Business this fall, scheduled to continue next spring.
A career in investment banking or portfolio management awaits, but only after the NFL tells him he needs to get a real job.
“I’ve gotten so far, I’d regret it several years down the road if I didn’t try,” Ruffer said. “That said, I have realistic expectations of whether or not I can play in the NFL. There are only 32 guys that can kick in the NFL and way more than 32 guys that are good enough to kick in the NFL.”
Ruffer used to think his career path would take him into the family business, his father Mike Ruffer the owner of multiple Five Guys restaurants in North Carolina. Ruffer once worked in one of those franchises preparing food. He’d joke with his dad that he’d take over a couple establishments after graduation.
“It depends on where you think the silver spoon was surgically implanted,” Mike Ruffer joked. “He’s got a lot more learning and a lot more upside than running restaurants. He needs to be a little uncomfortable, to work for somebody else.”
Mike Ruffer told his son the food industry was a “sub-optimization” of his abilities, at least part of the reason why Notre Dame’s kicker moved toward business. He couldn’t fully enroll in the Mendoza School because of his transfer status, but his fifth-year option let him take more courses in it.
Ruffer has sponged up financial media, reading books by Warren Buffett and “Too Big To Fail.” An Investment Theory course this fall about securities sparked an interest in portfolio management.
“Even the league minimum is a heck of a lot more than any company will be willing to pay you,” Mike Ruffer said. “We’ll see what might come about.”
All that can wait.
Ruffer savored his final home game last weekend, hugging his parents at midfield, mock lamenting how there’s no sixth-year program at Notre Dame. Then he kicked three field goals against Boston College, including what proved to be the game-winner.
Just a standard Saturday for Notre Dame’s still improbable story of a kicker.