Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Pain, Perseverance Keep Ruhland Rolling

November 7, 2019

The calls emanated from a different set of variables each time, but Trevor Ruhland remained steadfast in his answer.

“I’m fine, I’m OK. I’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” Ruhland would tell his mother, Lori, and father, Matt.

Usually, Trevor Ruhland was calling from one of two places: the hospital or the training room.

Notre Dame’s fifth-year senior offensive lineman knows the school’s medical staff on a first-name basis; his list of injuries reads like a set of cards from the classic Milton Bradley ‘Operation’ board game.

“I’ve had like three knee surgeries in my left knee, broke my elbow, tore both my pecs, tore my labrum, my shoulder, broke my ankle, broke my nose,” Ruhland said on the heels of the Irish’s 21-20 come-from-behind win last Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Thus, the calls home.

“One of the things we usually get is a call saying, ‘We had practice today, went well, but I’m at the hospital now getting my knee drained. I’ll be fine, I’m OK. I’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” said Matt Ruhland, who played collegiate football at the University of Iowa.

Trevor Ruhland casually explains he was cautioned against returning for a fifth year at college football’s highest level with one of the sport’s most demanding schedules. He had appeared in 23 career games for the Irish before this season; everyone knew Ruhland had gone to great lengths to be a part of the program and team, only to be betrayed time and time again by his body.

‘I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play,” said Ruhland, a Cary, Ill., native. “This spring was really hard for me. I was coming in hopefully getting the starting center spot, waiting my four years for it. Injuries kind of derailed a little bit of that. I’m beat up. I won’t lie to you.

“I’ve been told not to play, that I shouldn’t play. I’ve got the knee of an 80-year-old, they say. I couldn’t give up and came back for moments like this. You might not see it on my face right now, but I couldn’t be happier.”

Matt Ruhland, with his own first-hand perspective on football and injuries after enduring a reconstructive knee surgery at Iowa, remembers the family gathering last Christmas as Trevor was deciding on his future.

“I would say at the end of the season last year, going from short a Christmas break before the Cotton Bowl, and I think during Cotton Bowl practice, coaches were asking him and inviting him back,” Matt Ruhland said. “He had decisions to make. Honestly, both my wife and I weren’t real sure what he was going to do. He came home for a few days before going to Texas and announced to us he was coming back for his fifth year. We were like, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘I’m going to do this on my own terms.’ And we supported that; we were excited and happy for him.”

Only it wasn’t quite that simple. Ruhland’s left knee again didn’t have the physical strength of Trevor’s mental makeup.

“Finding out after surgery in January, how bad his knee really was, was obviously a setback,” Matt Ruhland said. “That’s when you really start to do some soul searching. But he said, ‘The team wants me back, staff wants me back, the program, but is it the right thing?’ He made his decision: ‘I’m all in.’”

Already a Notre Dame graduate, Trevor Ruhland admits a modified course load facilitates the physical therapy his body demands.

“It’s been crazy. Like pretty much, considering I graduated, I pretty much just live in the training room,” said Ruhland, on track for his second start this season Saturday when the No. 15 Irish travel to Duke. “All of them are just the best people in the world. They do everything, and I’m just in there all day just trying to get ready to play for my team.

“It’s been an uphill battle, but I wouldn’t change it at all. I think it’s made me tougher.”

Veteran defensive back Troy Pride Jr. got a renewed perspective on Ruhland’s playing burdens after meeting with media following the Virginia Tech win.

“It means so much, because I mean, Trevor, I talked to him even last year when he said he didn’t think he was going to come back and do much because he knows he’s had some issues,” Pride Jr. said. “That’s just the resilience of our players. We love each other, we’d do anything for each other, making sure everybody’s straight. You know, he’s had to step into a role twice and provide for us.

“I was talking to him after media at the (Virginia Tech) game, he had a hip, knee, leg; he took off this wrap. I was like, ‘Golly, Trevor, you all right, man?’ But nah, he’s a great guy and it’s awesome to see him continue to battle, because that’s the resilient nature that our team has and the character that we have.”

How can Ruhland keep enduring so much for 60 minutes on Saturdays?

Ruhland doesn’t even comprehend how anyone asks the question.

“How could you miss something like this? If I was on the sidelines watching that, obviously I’d be excited for everybody, but it would make me sick,” he said. “I just wanted to be a part of it. The best people in the world are in that locker room. The best people in the world.

“They’re the toughest, the smartest, the best character people in the world right there.”

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