Notre Dame OL Trevor Ruhland's first start was worth the wait

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The pain and patience all paid off for Trevor Ruhland last week.

The senior offensive lineman made his first start against Wake Forest after being relegated to a backup role for the first 41 games of his Notre Dame career. He fought back twice from torn pectoral muscles in his chest just be in this position.

He’d do it all over again too.

After celebrating Notre Dame’s 56-27 victory in Winston-Salem, Ruhland picked up his phone. His father was able to book a flight late in the week to see him play in person, but his mother had to stay back at home. She sent him pictures of the setting back in Cary, Ill., where everyone gathered to support Ruhland.

“They had like the whole neighborhood over,” Ruhland said. “My whole high school was watching the game and everything. That was one of the best moments I’ve ever had here.

“It’s always worth it being out there. Yeah, it’s been a lot of work, but you just have to keep fighting through it all.”

There’s no certainty that Ruhland will return to the starting lineup for Saturday night’s game pitting No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0) against No. 7 Stanford (4-0). Ruhland made his first start in part because of junior right guard Tommy Kraemer’s ankle injury. On Thursday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said both Kraemer and Ruhland will play.

The two also happen to be roommates. Together they live with center Sam Mustipher and walk-on offensive lineman Logan Plantz. Ruhland, who also serves as Mustipher’s backup, said the competition hasn’t affected their friendship.

“We know what we’re good at and what we need to work at,” Ruhland said. “It actually helps us. We’re pushing each other every day.

“When it comes down to it, I know Tommy and I know myself. All that matters is winning. That’s all that matters.

“If we don’t play me and we win, that’s fine. If I play and we win, that’s fine. As long as we get the win, that’s what’s most important.”

Everybody loves Ruhland

As part of a promotional video shoot by Notre Dame’s in-house media, several of the Irish offensive linemen were asked rapid-fire questions. For some reason, Ruhland became the go-to answer.

Favorite athlete? “Trevor Ruhland,” said Josh Lugg, Dillan Gibbons and Robert Hainsey.

Favorite player on the team? “Trevor Ruhland,” Alex Bars said.

Celebrity crush? “Trevor Ruhland,” Liam Eichenberg said.

What would the public be surprised to know about you? “Trevor Ruhland is my best friend,” Kraemer said.

Biggest fear? “Not living up to the expectations of Trevor Ruhland,” Hainsey said.

The Ruhland content rolls for 50 seconds before he appears briefly on camera. On Thursday, Ruhland made his first media appearance for reporters covering the Irish.

Can you guess who the Offensive Line's favorite Offensive Lineman is?#GoIrish ☘️

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 7, 2018

Did he ask media veteran Bars, who was also meeting with reporters on Thursday, for any advice?

“He hasn’t helped me at all. He’s terrible,” Ruhland joked. “You could ask him. I always help him in class when it comes to speeches and everything. I’m the good public speaker here.”

Bars, standing nearby watching Ruhland answer questions, concurred.

“We had a presentation on Monday, and he blew it out of the park,” Bars said.

He’s a reliable classmate, and he’s a reliable teammate too.

“Trevor Ruhland’s always a guy you can count on to always be ready,” Mustipher said after the Wake Forest game. “He’s the second-string center. The guy would start if he went anywhere else. I mean that.

“For him to step in there like that, the communication was fine. There was no drop-off in communication. He knows the game well. His football IQ is incredible. For him to step in there and play the way he did, I was so happy for him.”

Fighting off injuries

Any realistic chance for Ruhland to enter preseason camp as a the starting right guard ended in the middle of a pass protection drill in the spring.

As the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Ruhland tried to hold up against a bull rush, he felt a pop in his chest. It was a familiar pain. The year before, he had torn a pectoral muscle while bench pressing. The same injury occurred again.

“It is not a good feeling at all,” Ruhland said.

Ruhland had to dive back into a rehab process that finished in the middle of the summer. Fortunately, he said, surgery wasn’t required.

Undoubtedly, Ruhland’s development has been stunted by the two pectoral injuries. He said he could bench press 225 pounds 27 or 28 times when he was a freshman. Now Ruhland avoids testing at that level. At the NFL Combine in March, only five offensive linemen hit more than 28 reps.

“I know I probably won’t ever reach how I could have been strength-wise,” Ruhland said. “Especially when I was a younger kid here, I was very strong. I’ve had a little bit of a setback there, but I’m back to where I should be. I fit right in with everybody else.”

Ruhland, a three-star recruit out of Cary-Grove, dealt with shoulder injuries during his high school days too. The injury list has likely put a ceiling on his potential as a physical offensive lineman.

“I’ve been hurt quite a bit,” Ruhland said. “Knock on some wood. I feel great now. Our medical staff deserves so much credit for how they treat us every day. I feel good. I’ve hurt a lot of things over the years.”

But now, Ruhland’s finally getting a chance to hurt opposing teams in meaningful moments. He saw some playing time in the Vanderbilt game. Then his first start came against Wake Forest.

On a day when field temperatures were reportedly over 100 degrees, Ruhland said he felt comfortable.

“I didn’t even know it was that hot during the game,” Ruhland said. “We have the big cooling fans and everything, so it felt good on the sideline. The biggest thing is how fast it goes and especially how fast the linebackers and safeties are. They move a lot faster than our scout team players do.”

Ruhland fared well for the most part. It appeared quarterback Ian Book was only under pressure twice because of a failed assignment by Ruhland. The Irish like to pull their guards as lead blockers and Ruhland did that well too.

“I feel like I’m good in space. Pulling-wise, I can use my speed,” Ruhland said. “Being a little bit undersized, I can get on the perimeter a little bit better than some of our guys. Pass blocking I feel like I’m pretty strong in.

“The biggest thing is being able to hold my own when it comes to a bull rush or moving a big guy off the ball. Those are the things I’ve been working on. I know I can get it done, it’s just something I always have to keep in mind.”

Ruhland knows his limitations. He’s accepted his role while pushing his teammates for playing time. He’ll be ready when needed again.

“It helps,” Ruhland said, “playing next to the best offensive linemen in the country.”

Senior offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland made his first career start at right guard against Wake Forest.
Notre Dame’s offensive linemen, including Alex Bars (right), have been supportive of senior Trevor Ruhland (left) as he’s worked his way into a significant role.