Sports

North Dakota football player is proving he has what it takes at age 49

A junior college in North Dakota has an elder statesman on its roster, a 49-year-old freshman.

Ray Ruschel, 49, is a backup defensive lineman and the oldest member of the North Dakota State College of Science. He’s also one year older than his coach.

Ruschel has been an important part of the team this season. When the team lost a game in September, Ruschel stepped in and provided his college football team with some motivational words.

Ray Ruschel, a 49-year-old freshman football player for the North Dakota State College of Science, takes his turn on the blocking sled Sept. 20, 2022, in Wahpeton, N.D. 

Ray Ruschel, a 49-year-old freshman football player for the North Dakota State College of Science, takes his turn on the blocking sled Sept. 20, 2022, in Wahpeton, N.D. 
(AP photo/Dave Kolpack)

“There were just kind of emotions everywhere. Everybody did not handle it,” The Associated Press reported wide receiver Marselio Mendez saying in reference to the loss to rival Minnesota State Community Technical College. 

“Ray came up and said, ‘You know, it’s not really failing, right?’ He said we just have to put the emotion to the side, and we still got the rest of the season and playoffs to show who we are.”

Ruschel had a long path to the small school that often gets overlooked with North Dakota State nearby.

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Ruschel spent almost twenty years in the Army and National Guard. He became a sergeant during his time in the Army and said he wants to stay active in the National Guard until he reaches the age of 60.

He then started working as a night-shift mechanic at a sugar beet factory, when he decided to enroll at the College of Science. The school offers a variety of two-year programs. 

In hopes of working his way up at the factory, Ruschel chose to study business management. He soon learned the school also had a football team. And he still had eligibility.

Ray Ruschel, a 49-year-old freshman football player for the North Dakota State College of Science, at practice Sept. 20, 2022, in Wahpeton, N.D.

Ray Ruschel, a 49-year-old freshman football player for the North Dakota State College of Science, at practice Sept. 20, 2022, in Wahpeton, N.D.
(AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

“Something just clicked in my head, like, ‘Why not play?’” recalled Ruschel, who last played more than 30 years ago as a high school senior in Pennsylvania.

Ruschel tried out for the team and performed well enough to catch the eye of other players. Ruschel plays an average of 12 snaps per game.

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Ruschel continues to work his overnight shift at the beet factory and then fits in a couple of hours at the gym after he punches out at 8 a.m. each day.

North Dakota State College of Science has around 3,000 enrolled students. The school campus has a 4,100-seat stadium, and the football facilities consist of four practice fields.

Defensive lineman Ray Ruschel, gesturing at center, is a 49-year-old college freshman at North Dakota State College of Science. Here, he works on rushing techniques during practice Sept. 20, 2022, in Wahpeton, N.D.

Defensive lineman Ray Ruschel, gesturing at center, is a 49-year-old college freshman at North Dakota State College of Science. Here, he works on rushing techniques during practice Sept. 20, 2022, in Wahpeton, N.D.
(AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

Last season, the Wildcats only lost one game and finished with a 9-1 record, the best in school history. The team is 4-1 this season.

Despite the sizable age gap, players say Ruschel fits right in with the rest of the team.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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