Paul Woodside and Touchdown Jesus Let Gonzaga’s David Ruffer Live the Dream
For the much weightier print platform of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about Paul Woodside, a placekicking guru who has coached some of the area's biggest legs. Pick up a copy, read the column, patronize only the smut shops found within our pages.
Along with being a genius about all the technical aspects of kicking, Woodside, a former All-American at West Virginia U., is also an accidental life coach. Talk to his students, and they'll tell you Woodside could make them better not just at kicking a football, but at anything they'd want to do.
As Stefan Fatsis says, "He makes you believe." Fatsis, NPR's resident sportsman and an author, met Woodside in 2005 to prepare for A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL, his book about kicking through a training camp of Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos. "Paul had ninth graders that can kick the ball farther than I can," he says, "but he made me feel like I was kicking in the Super Bowl."
Nowhere is Woodside's power of positive thinking more manifest than in the tale of David Ruffer. Ruffer, who grew up in Northern Virginia, didn't even play high school football during his days at Gonzaga — he golfed and played soccer while studying placekicking with Woodside. But that complete absence of game experience didn't stop him from trying to live out every Gonzaga boy's fantasy: Playing for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
That dream could have been derailed at so many times. Like when Ruffer wasn't accepted by Notre Dame to even enroll as a regular guy student out of high school. So he went to William & Mary for a year, kept up his lessons with Woodside, and reapplied to Notre Dame. He got in as a transfer in 2008.
Then when he got to South Bend, Charlie Weis told Ruffer he couldn't try out for the team, so he played receiver and kicker for a season for the Siegfried Hall Ramblers, a dorm team in Notre Dame's Interhall football league. Word about the dorm leaguer's big leg got back to the real football staff, and Ruffer got his tryout.
And he's made the best of it: Notre Dame hasn't given him a scholarship, but they've allowed Ruffer to live the dream. Ruffer, a senior, is now the starting kicker for the Irish, and made his 10th straight field goal Saturday night to briefly give Notre Dame the lead during overtime of the nationally televised prime time game against Michigan State.
Holy Touchdown Jesus, is that a story!