One of the big mysteries of Ohio State’s spring practice this year was where in the world was Noah Ruggles. The Buckeye kicker, who transferred into the program last summer from North Carolina, was not present during practices open to the media and when asked about Ruggles’ noticeable absence, head coach Ryan Day said, “he’s not with us right now, but he’ll be joining us this summer.”
While Day’s word is typically gospel around the Scarlet and Gray program, the fact that there was no further explanation and Ruggles posted pictures on Instagram from Hawaii raised some questions. despues de electing to return to college for a final seasonwhy was Ruggles now away from the program?
“It was something I hadn’t experienced in the past before. But really it was kind of a personal thing,” Ohio State special teams coordinator parker fleming said when speaking to the media for the first time this offseason on Friday. “It wasn’t a big deal, nothing bad. It was just kind of a situation and then the head coach and I had a conversation and that’s the direction that we went.”
What made this situation even murkier was the Buckeyes adding former USC kicker Parker Lewis this offseason, the third scholarship player at the position on the roster. Lewis, one of the top specialists in the transfer portal, committed to the Scarlet and Gray at the end of Aprilleading some to believe this was a sign Ruggles would not return.
However, on Friday, Day and Fleming confirmed that Ruggles is back, with Day saying the sixth-year player just “needed a little time away.”
With that mystery solved, Fleming and Ohio State will have to figure out how the team will handle kicking in the fall. Ruggles put together a fantastic 2021 season with the Buckeyes, making 20 of 21 field goals and all 74 extra point attempts, being named a Lou Groza Award finalist in the process.
“He had a really good season last year, so it’s something to build off of,” Fleming said of Ruggles. “And something we’ve talked a lot about is how do you improve off of a great season? Well, there’s a lot of ways you can. And that’s something we’ve been focusing on throughout the last few months.”
While he wasn’t with the program in the spring, Ruggles continued to work. After entering the transfer portal following the 2020 season, Ruggles worked hard to continue to improve and earn a scholarship from a program like Ohio State. The Scarlet and Gray knew he would do the same this offseason.
“He’s an older guy, he’s mature, he can take care of himself and that’s something he was doing the entire time he wasn’t with us,” Fleming said. “I talk to him all the time. It’s one of those things, he and I have a great relationship so we were constantly communicating. It wasn’t necessarily checking in. It was one of those making sure he’s got what he needs and making sure he’s doing what he needs to be doing. If he needs help from me or support from anybody here, we’re always here for that. But he’s mature. He kinda takes care of his business from him in those ways.”
When he does get back on the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ruggles will certainly have some competition. Lewis made 26 of his 35 field goal attempts and all but one of his extra points in two seasons with the Trojans. He has a career-long field goal make of 52 yards, compared to Ruggles’ 49.
Ohio State also has third-year sophomores Jake Seibert on scholarship. The second-ranked kicker in the country in the 2020 recruiting class has just two field goal attempts during his Buckeye career, making one. The Scarlet and Gray also have walk-ons Garrison Smith and Jayden Fielding on the roster, both of whom played in the spring game.
“EITHERbviously he wasn’t with us in the spring and it gave the young guys a great opportunity to go show what they did,” Fleming said. “If you guys paid attention in the spring game, we have some good talent with some younger guys as well. So that was what it was really built on.”
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While it’s not often that teams have a battle between two kickers, let alone three, it seems that will be the case for the Scarlet and Gray heading into the fall.
“I think all competition is good competition,” Fleming said. “I think that our job here is to make sure that we get the best out of our players every day. The motto around here is fight, fight to be the best version of yourself every day. And in some places, the best possible way to do that is to compete. And sometimes competition against yourself is really good. Sometimes competition against other people brings the best out of everybody. And that’s kinda our mindset around here.”