Prep notebook: Northwestern’s Ruffi is a runaway Tiger

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Entering the fourth week of the high school football season, Northwestern’s Reagan Ruffi had rushed for a solid, if not spectacular, 184 yards.

Now, that’s a night’s work for the elusive junior.

So prolific has Ruffi been that he chased down Nate Pearson’s single-season record of 1,657 yards, eclipsing the current Minnesota Duluth Bulldog during last week’s 29-17 playoff-opening win at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. Ruffi went for 233 yards to push his tally for the fall to 1,733.

“It says a lot about his maturity,” first-year Northwestern coach Jovin Kroll said. “You tend to see records fall with seniors.”

Everything started to come together in a 30-16 loss at Bloomer on Sept. 8. Kroll says that’s when the Tigers started to figure out the nuances of his offense. Ruffi agreed, saying it took him a while to see the holes and cuts he knew were there. Once the clarity came, his numbers soared.

The first-year starter ran for 169 yards against Bloomer, and 152 the following week vs. Barron. That was the last time Ruffi was held under 200. He has rushed for 1,228 yards over the past five games, a dizzying average of 245.6 per outing. During that stretch, Ruffi has scored 16 touchdowns, including four in a 305-yard outburst at Ladysmith on Oct. 13.

Talk about production.

Ruffi says he’s only getting stronger as the season progresses. He’s up to 212 carries, a workload he relishes.

“I feel like I can handle it,” he said. “I don’t see myself getting weaker at all.”

Northwestern will need to ride its horse once again this week against defending Division 4 state champ St. Croix Central, which defeated the Tigers 35-20 in last year’s playoffs. Friday’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. in Hammond, Wis.

Getting to this point is an accomplishment by itself considering Northwestern’s roster counts just four seniors.

“But, at the same time, we’re not satisfied with just bowing out after Level 1,” Kroll said. “You never know how often these opportunities will come.”

Added Ruffi, who also starts at cornerback: “I think we can do great things this season. Our coaches have said it before, but I know we can roll with any team in the state.”

A shifty back who boasts more first-step quickness than breakaway speed, Ruffi has an innate ability to slow plays down. To be sure, if there’s a hole, he’s going to explode through it. But, if there isn’t, he’s content to “wait and make something out of nothing,” Kroll said.

More often than not, there’s a hole. Northwestern’s offensive line makes sure of that.

“You can’t run for 1,700-plus yards without a great line,” Kroll said.


Mizzou hooks Marshall’s Pedersen

When Duluth Marshall pitcher Ben Pedersen made a recruiting visit to the University of Missouri last weekend, he already had scholarship offers from Minnesota, Iowa and Southern Mississippi. More were in the works.

Those won’t be necessary, not after the 6-foot-5 right-hander fell in love with the Southeastern Conference school in Columbia, Mo.

“Mizzou blew me away,” said Pedersen, who verbally committed to the Tigers on the spot.

Pedersen apparently had done the same while pitching at the Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., earlier this month. It was there that Missouri initiated contact with the Marshall junior. Pedersen was coming off an attention-grabbing summer with the Minnesota Blizzard, a club team out of Vadnais Heights. That followed a dominant spring in which the then-sophomore went 9-0 on the mound with a 1.50 ERA. He fanned 86 in 70 innings as the Hilltoppers advanced to the Class AA state tournament.

With a fastball that averages 87-89 mph — though it hit 91 over the summer — Pedersen had become a coveted recruit. His height didn’t hurt. Is he done growing?

“My parents don’t believe that I am, but I’m pretty sure I’m close, if not done completely,” Pedersen said.

In Columbia, Pedersen connected instantly with head coach Steve Bieser and his staff, including pitching coach Fred Corral, who has spent a dozen years in the SEC, in addition to major-league stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the old Montreal Expos.

Pedersen wasn’t in a rush to end the recruiting process, but he also didn’t see a reason to prolong it.

“I’d be fine with going into next year, but I absolutely love Mizzou, so I figured I might as well jump on the opportunity,” he said.


Miscellaneous

Sarah (Myhre) Klyve reportedly has resigned as Proctor girls basketball coach. ... Thomas Mitchell is the new boys basketball coach at Duluth Marshall. ... Former South Shore standout Megan Gustafson, a junior on the Iowa women’s basketball team, was named Preseason All-Big Ten on Monday. She was a first-team all-conference selection a year ago after leading the Hawkeyes in scoring (18.5 points per game), rebounding (10.1) and field-goal percentage (64.7). ... Earlier this month, Wisconsin-Green Bay senior Jessica Lindstrom, who starred at Superior, was tabbed Preseason All-Horizon League first team. She averaged 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds last season for the Phoenix.