A well-known face in the Saint Ignatius Athletics community is taking the reins of the Wildcats' freshmen football squad.
Mark Ruddy '90 has assumed the role of head freshmen football coach, as Rodney Gallaway has accepted a promotion to wide receivers coach on the varsity squad (filling the shoes of Jack Hyland '14, who stepped away to focus on his budding career).
Gallaway leaves a strong foundation in place after 12 seasons in the role. Ruddy spent the last four seasons on Gallaway's staff, so he's ready and well-suited for the new role. Look for a feature story on Gallaway next week.
As for Ruddy, he's eager to coach the next generation of Wildcats and pick up where Gallaway has left off.
"First off, Rodney has done a great job over the past decade. He's made it easy for me," says Ruddy. "So much is already in place. I've talked to him over 15 times, he's been so willing to help. He'll do great things on the varsity level. I'm really excited to build on the program he's put in place."
Ruddy has been a part of the building process over the last five years. The 1990 Saint Ignatius alum joined the freshman coaching staff in 2016, earning the role of Offensive Coordinator as well as Quarterbacks and Running Backs Coach. Over the last four seasons, Head Football Coach Chuck Kyle '69 has noticed Ruddy's great coaching style.
"Mark has a very good understanding of how an athlete physically and mentally comes to an understanding of what's going on," says Kyle. "You can show a play on the chalkboard, but a kid has to picture and feel it. Because he's been through it and already knows our system, Mark is a good teacher of the game of football. Plus, having been a CYO coach, he's organized."
The Wildcats' varsity offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Nick Restifo, Hon. '19, has also taken notice of Ruddy's ability to lead young men.
"I was so excited when he first came on board," Restifo says. "Having been on our first state championship teams, he has a sense of tradition. He knows what it means to be a student at Saint Ignatius and what it takes. He tells them great stories and models hard work as he leads them. And he knows more than one position, so he knows the way things are working as a whole. He's a throwback coach, because he can instruct every position since he played both ways. It's great to have him on the freshmen level. He's a special guy in my heart, because we go back a long way. And most importantly, he's a great father and husband. I'm excited to see what he does for our boys."
Even before becoming a coach, Ruddy was a well-known Ignatian.
Ruddy starred for the Football Cats during the premiere of the powerhouse in the late 1980s. Ruddy shined at wide receiver and cornerback, and even as a long snapper. During his time as a student-athlete, Ruddy developed a reputation as a savvy, do-it-all player who could be relied upon in every situation.
"In the state championship game in 1989, he played every single play of the game," Kyle says. "He played on offense, defense, and special teams. On the last play of the game, we had the ball on 4th down near midfield with 4 seconds. So, we decided to punt. As the long snapper, Mark had to make sure the snap is great so the punter can just punch it, since Moeller was rushing all 11 guys. And sure enough, Mark had a perfect snap, Pat Friend punted it, the ball bounced around for 4 seconds, and we won."
For Ruddy, a Saint Ignatius Athletic Hall of Famer, coaching the freshmen squad is the chance to teach young Wildcats some of the same lessons he learned back in the day.
"With coaching, I'm just giving back to everything Ignatius has done for me throughout my life. Not just in a football sense, but academically, socially, and spiritually," Ruddy says. "You come in and have a chance to assemble young men from throughout Northeast Ohio. You're working with blank slates and kids who are eager to learn. It's so much fun working with the freshmen and teaching them. The best thing are practices where you see the light bulb go on, they just get it one day. It's fun."
In fact, Ruddy already has in mind what he'll say to the boys on the first day.
"The overarching theme of Saint Ignatius is brotherhood. In the first couple of days, I'll tell the young men, 'Look around. You may see the best man in your wedding. Or even your future brother in law,'" Ruddy says. "Pat O'Rourke '90 is my brother in law. The friends I made at Ignatius are still the best friends in my life. Thirty years later, we have tight knit group of Ignatius men. We're there in good times and bad to support each other."
Of course, each coach has a certain coaching style. Ruddy is no different.
For the West Parker, his style is down-to-earth and relatable. He'll focus heavily on the preparation aspect. In his mind, football ties directly into academics.
"From a specific coaching standpoint, you support the rigors of the academics. I'll place 100% of my focus on preparation," Ruddy says. "Nothing feels better than walking into the classroom for a test when you're prepared and confident. It's the same with football, you should come in confidence and prepared. We'll put our guys in the best position to be successful. If something comes up in the game, they can often make the adjustments themselves. If not, then we gather as a team to figure it out."
Before the Class of 2024 gathers as a group in August, the freshmen football squad will have met (hopefully) to train together.
So, having a positive first point of contact with young freshmen is so important. Ruddy is just the right man for the job, as a model of an Ignatian man.
"Mark gets what we try to do. He understands the mission of our school," Kyle says. "Working with freshmen, they're coming in not totally understanding what we're about. They have an image of the school and made the commitment, but before classes start, you can't fully know what it's about. A man like Mark Ruddy can help introduce them to what it means to be an Ignatius man."
Raising two sons at Ignatius – Mark '21 and Matthew '23 – with his wonderful wife, Mary, Ruddy can relate to the boys well, too.
"Having two sons at Ignatius helps me relate to what they're going through, what they're thinking, and what they might struggling with," Ruddy says. "Even though not saying it, you can read their actions and faces. If I can identify if a kid is having a bad day or struggling, I can help them get through it. Sports teaches so many life lessons. What we do on the field supports what we do in the classroom. And you can put the words Men for Others on a T-shirt, but it is a guiding principle. If you live your life as a Man for Others, everything else falls in place."