Notre Dame incoming OL Trevor Ruhland motivated by Iowa snub
The destination was never in question.
Long before Trevor Ruhland plowed through defensive linemen at Cary-Grove Community High School in Illinois, his father, Matt Ruhland, was an All-Big Ten defensive tackle and team MVP at Iowa. His mother went to Iowa. All of his aunts and uncles went to Iowa.
Growing up, Trevor wore a football jersey that said it all.
On the back: Ruhland.
On the front: Iowa.
With gold and black stitched into his skin, Ruhland’s future was a mapped-out inevitability. He would play football at Iowa, just like his father. He would wear the Hawkeye on the side of his helmet, the latest in a proud family tradition. He would take Interstate 80 west to Iowa City, without wonder or regret.
There was only one problem:
Iowa didn’t agree.
“I watched Iowa every Saturday. That was the school I always envisioned playing for,” said Ruhland, who eventually signed with Notre Dame, in February. “It never worked out.”
Ruhland — a 6-foot-4, 285-pound offensive lineman at Cary-Grove, where his father is an assistant coach — earned more than a dozen scholarship offers, with a handful of them coming from Big Ten schools. He was ranked as a four-star prospect by ESPN and a three-star recruit by both Rivals and 247Sports, unanimously considered one of the top high school players in the state of Illinois.
“We loved his toughness, loved the way he plays the game, the demeanor that he brings,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly after Ruhland signed. “Just a tough, tough player and again, love the way he plays the game and the way he approaches it every day.”
Ruhland was good enough for so many schools, Notre Dame included.
But not the one he dreamed of.
“I had to say, ‘On to the next school. On to bigger and better things. I’m going to write my own legacy,’” Ruhland said.
“It worked out. Going from Iowa, and no disrespect, but Notre Dame is in a different league. It’s funny how things work out. It really is.”
Ruhland has moved on, but he hasn’t forgotten. To have success at Notre Dame, after all, Ruhland feels he must allow himself to be propelled by the offer he never received.
“It’s pretty much my main motivator,” Ruhland said. “I actually wrote a paper on it yesterday. I just feel like I’m just out there proving that, ‘Yeah, you guys made a mistake by not taking me.’
“Not that I would change anything that happened, because I’m going to the best school in the country. But it motivates me a lot.”
Between the lines, of course, Ruhland never lacked motivation. The agile 285-pounder with long, chaotic sideburns and black war paint streaking down his cheeks removes defensive linemen with gleeful authority. His highlight tape is an exercise in obliteration, with Ruhland relentlessly punishing opponents like a monster truck crushing a line of compact cars.
His entire day is a gradual build-up, and football is the glorious release.
“I consider myself a nice guy. I think I’m pretty easy going, relaxed, cordial. But you have to flip the switch,” Ruhland said. “You need to go from a gentleman to a beast.
“You’re not out there on the football field trying to make friends. That’s the time to release all your pent-up aggression, all the anger throughout the day. When you hit someone, break a couple helmets, that’s the best part.”
As for the immediate future, Ruhland will move to South Bend on June 12, positioned firmly at the bottom of a depth chart stocked with established performers and five-star talents. He will scratch and claw in the grueling anonymity of summer workouts and fall practices to gain respect and ascend the ladder.
He will work hard, and feed the beast.
“I want to go out and prove to myself that I belong here,” Ruhland said. “I understand if I don’t play my first year. I’ll probably redshirt. I think my job is to give the best look that I can to the starters so that we can go out there and try to make a playoff push and win a national championship.
“I understand where I am right now. I understand the work that needs to be done. I’m going to come in hungry and ready to go.”
Of course, Notre Dame fans can thank Iowa for that hunger — for pushing Ruhland to shatter the perceived limitations on what he might achieve. And as the incoming freshman prepares to set off on his own path, his parents are also looking to buy a house in South Bend.
Old allegiances have been uprooted, replaced with a new destination and a darker shade of gold.
“I’m so excited. I’ve got prom this weekend, and then I don’t see any more point to go to high school,” Ruhland said with a laugh.
“It’s all I think about. I just want to get out there, get in my dorm room, say goodbye to the parents and just get after it, really.”
Today's feature story on Notre Dame incoming freshman offensive guard Trevor Ruhland is the fifth in an ongoing weekly series of profiles taking a look at the members of the incoming Irish freshman football class.