Notre Dame football legend who inspired Rudy movie shares powerful messages with VU students

Notre Dame football legend who inspired Rudy movie shares powerful messages with VU students

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August 17, 2022

August 17, 2022

VINCENNES, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame and Rudy Ruettiger, whose true life story was immortalized in one of the best sports movies of all time, “Rudy”, are synonymous with each other.

Rudy Ruettiger on stage at the RSPAC

Before Ruettiger walked on to the Notre Dame football team and became a famous sports hero and motivational speaker, he studied at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Indiana.

At the time, Holy Cross was a two-year school. His Holly Cross education launched him on a trajectory that forever changed his life.

“My victory was a junior college because a junior college helped me get to a four-year college,” Ruettiger said.

Ruettiger was the featured speaker of Vincennes University Student Activities Welcome Week. Ruettiger kept VU students, faculty, and staff on the edge of their seats at the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Aug. 16. 

He shared how he overcame unimaginable odds, including dyslexia and his 5-foot-6 stature, to realize his dream of attending and playing for Notre Dame in the 1970s and how he persevered to get a movie made about one of the greatest underdog college sports stories ever.

VU Law Enforcement major Chase Martoccia of Columbus, Indiana, wore a Notre Dame jersey with the No. 45, the number worn by Ruettiger, in hopes of meeting his hero and having him sign his jersey. He not only had the opportunity to meet Ruettiger, but Martoccia won a football autographed by him.

“I’ve had this Rudy jersey for about four or five years,” Martoccia said. “I thought this was the perfect day to wear it. It is my dream to go to Notre Dame. I feel like I can get there. If he did it, I can do it. I just have to study hard.”

After serving in the Navy, Ruettiger used his GI Bill® benefits to study at Holy Cross, then Notre Dame. He praised the value of a two-year education like the one he received at Holy Cross.

“You get more personal attention, and the professors really care,” Ruettiger said. “They believe in you. That is the junior college motto.”

At Holy Cross, Ruettiger developed a game plan for four semesters and was told that you will get accepted into Notre Dame if you “are willing to do a lot of hard work and go to class every day.”

“I was told, “If you go to class every day, we promise you’ll get good grades here because we don’t fail anybody if you come to class every day because you can’t help but learn,” Ruettiger said. “If you don’t know something, you’ve got to ask your friends because your friends will help you learn. That’s how I learned in the Navy.”

Ruettiger applied to Notre Dame multiple times before he was accepted. Once there, he continued to work hard and made the football team as a walk-on player. In the final home contest of the 1975 season, he fulfilled his dream of playing in a game for the Fighting Irish. He did more than just get in the game. With time running out, Ruettiger tackled the Georgia Tech quarterback, and he was carried off the field in celebration.

“It took me 27 years to play 27 seconds to make that tackle,” Ruettiger said. “Was it worth it? Absolutely. You don’t have to be good to be somebody. You just have to be passionate and excited about who you are and what you are doing.”

Ruettiger posed for photos with students and fans 

Following Ruettiger’s speech, eager students, faculty, and staff patiently waited in a long line that stretched across the RSPAC stage and aisles to pose for photographs with Ruettiger and get his autograph.

VU Zoology and Marine Biology major Abyela Cruz of French Lick, Indiana, had Ruettiger autograph her sketchbook. She was inspired by his powerful message of “never give up.”

“I saw the movie and thought it was really cool,” Cruz said. “I was excited to see a celebrity in person.”

Ruettiger spoke about his journey, perseverance, and how the students in that very room could also succeed. He encouraged everyone to work hard, have determination, and most of all belief in oneself.

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