His name is Rudy Rutgower. He is 18-years old, 5-feet tall and he has a dream: to play college football. While he knows he’s too small to be a starter, the scrappy, never-say-die Rutgower just wants to run on the field for one play. And though he was born and raised in Vandalia, Indiana, the diminutive youngster would prefer to do it at the University of Florida because they’re not as sucky as Notre Dame.
“That’s my dream,” said Rutgower, staring wistfully off into the distance. “I want to run onto the field at the Swamp, get in the huddle, sprint to the line of scrimmage and make a play. I want to feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I hear my name announced. I want to be part of a winning tradition, if only for a brief moment in time. Pride, integrity, victory, respect: that’s what Florida football symbolizes to me.”
Rudy knows he resembles another famous Rudy, the one that was the subject of the hugely popular movie celebrating the allure and mystique of Notre Dame football. Having hailed from a small, unincorporated town near South Bend, he has his share of memories surrounding the Fighting Irish. But, like most youngsters of today, he’d rather have his inspirational, once-in-a-lifetime moment on a team that’s won something since he's been alive.
“Everybody tells me I’m just like the kid from the movie,” said Rutgower. “But the big difference is I’m not a Notre Dame fan. I love the Florida Gators. That’s why I dream of someday taking the field oh, sorry, I should gaze wistfully at the sunset while I say this of someday taking the field with the Florida Gators and making a play while 90,000 fans do the Gator chomp.”
The first part of Rutgower’s dream has already been realized: in August, he was accepted to Florida and is now taking classes toward a degree in business. In his spare time, however, he is maintaining his laser-like focus on the goal of making the Gators practice squad.
“It’s a long shot, but I believe in myself,” said Rutgower. “And when you believe in yourself, you can accomplish all of your dreams. That’s what this great black janitor told me anyway when we were standing in the tunnel under the stadium smoking a fattie. I’ll never forget that. That was some great stuff.”
Rutgower’s story is starting to get national attention. He was mentioned onGood Morning America, as well as ESPN’sFirst Takeand has performed numerous radio interviews to talk about his inspirational quest. Rutgower says he hopes the attention will help him achieve his goal.
“Hopefully Coach Meyer and the powers-that-be here in Gainesville will notice me, notice how much I love the program, notice how small and earnest I am, and be moved to give me a shot,” Rutgower said. “That’s all I want: a shot. My daddy was a coal miner. My momma was a homemaker. I just wanna make them proud. I mean, my daddy was actually an orthodontist, but for the purposes of this story, and the ensuing movie, let’s say he was a coal miner.”
Meanwhile, one program has gotten wind of Rutgower’s story and are willing to give him a shot to make the team: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who will likely have an opening at starting quarterback next season. Rutgower, however, said he’s “not interested” in being the starting quarterback for the Fighting Irish.
“Yeah, no thanks. I wouldn’t want that thankless job,” Rudy said. “Being part of this sinking ship, getting punched in public, and generally being the whipping boy for thousands of frustrated fans and boosters? No thanks. I’d much rather run on the field for one play at Florida then be the starting quarterback for Notre Dame.”