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Ruffi repeats as Telegram’s top player

Northwestern High School’s Reagan Ruffi poses for a photo in the NHS gymnasium Tuesday Nov. 27. Ruffi is the 2018 Superior Telegram Football Player of the Year. Jed Carlson / 1 / 3
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When Reagan Ruffi was named the 2017 Superior Telegram Player of the Year, it was hard to imagine having a better season that included a school-record 1,791 yards rushing with 22 touchdowns.
But the future Minnesota Duluth Bulldog outdid himself by topping his single-season rushing record with 1,981 yards and shattering the single-season touchdown record with 35.

Those accomplishments led to Ruffi being named the Superior Telegram Player of the Year for the second straight season.

“Records weren’t really my focus, I just wanted to get a state championship and we came up a bit short on that,” Ruffi said.

The Tigers were 11-1 this season, including 7-0 in the Heart O’ North Conference. They also won a pair of playoff games before losing to St. Croix Central, which eventually lost in the state championship game.

“He had some pretty ridiculous numbers, but the thing that stuck out the most was his leadership,” NHS coach Jovin Kroll said. “When you have a big season like he did as a junior, it would have been easy for him to rest on his laurels, but he kept on working. Nobody watched more film than him, he was a great leader in the weight room and especially on the field.”

Besides his single-season records, Ruffi is now the school’s all-time leader with 4,432 yards rushing and 64 touchdowns.

“Nobody accomplished more on the field, from a running back position, in the history of our school,” Kroll said. “He’s a championship-caliber player.”

Ruffi’s postseason honors include WFCA Honorable Mention All-State, WFCA All-Northwest Region, Heart O’ North Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and HON all-conference.

On top of that, if the award existed, he could very well be named the Comeback Player of the Year.

During the Hayward game on Sept. 21, Ruffi suffered a leg injury, which at first didn’t seem all that serious. But a day later he was undergoing surgery and missing the rest of the season became a possibility.

“I just made a cut and happened to tear a blood vessel in the side of my lower leg,” Ruffi said. “The blood was draining into the side compartment of my leg and it started smashing the nerves and squeezing the muscle. I remember it got hard as a rock and really stuck out.”

After a sleepless night, Ruffi went to a volleyball tournament at the school the next day and showed his leg to the Devin Soul, the school’s athletic trainer.

“I talked to Devin and she said I needed to go to the hospital,” Ruffi said. “So we went in and they immediately did surgery. I was pretty upset. They said initially I would miss at least two to three weeks so I was worried I would miss the first playoff game.”

It turns out Ruffi only missed one game, against Spooner, and returned to action for the final two games of the regular season.

He rushed for 231 yards against Ladysmith and 174 more against Barron as the Tigers wrapped up a perfect 9-0 regular season.

“I wanted to play against Spooner, but Devin yelled at me,” Ruffi said. “Before the game I wasn’t wearing my boot any more, but when it came time for the game, I figured she was going to be around (on the sidelines) so I figure I better wear it.”

As for the surgery, it included cutting the outer lining of the compartment on Ruffi’s lower leg to drain the blood.

“The doctor said when she cut it, the muscle popped out the side of my leg and it was a dark color, which indicated it was already dying,” Ruffi said. “It’s 100 percent now. The muscle sticks out a little bit and it looks pretty gross, but everything is fine.”

Kroll’s initial reaction was understandable.

“I didn’t eat for a while, and I kind of just stared in the corner,” Kroll said. “That wouldn’t have been a break-the-season moment because of the depth we had at running back, but that makes your heart skip a beat and puts you in a state of extreme concern.

“Initially you feel for yourself and the team, but then you really have to feel bad for Reagan, because of all the hard work he put in and what he was on pace to do. All of that would have been lost because he was a senior.”

In the Tigers’ three playoff games, Ruffi rushed for 557 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Despite all of his success, Ruffi is quick to pass a lot of credit around.

“The O-line was just fantastic; I love our coaching staff; and Jake Brill, our quarterback, really opened up the running game with his passing,” Ruffi said. “But most of all I have to thank my parents, Randol and Sharla Ruffi, and my sister, Allison, she’s my biggest fan.”

Ruffi also credited quarterback coach Josh Antilla, who worked out with Ruffi during the off-season. The two worked more on speed training and Ruffi attended a number of football camps (North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and the Wisconsin coaches association combine).

“All of his hard worked definitely paid off,” Kroll said. “He’s provided an example to our younger players to model their work effort after. He was an enjoyment for a lot of people to watch. We definitely appreciate what he’s done for the program and wish him the best of luck at UMD — they’re getting a good one.”

TIGER TALES: T.J. Polkoski was the single-season touchdown record holder with 26 TDs during the 2010 season. … Ruffi is projected as a running back at UMD. The letter of intent signing will take place in February.Superior Telegram Team

The 2018 Superior Telegram All-Area Football Team includes four returning players, 12 seniors and two juniors.

Back on the team are Ruffi, along with Tiger teammates Gervase Thompson IV and Nate Ohman, and Superior’s Chase Summerfield.

The lone juniors honored are Superior’s Jarret Gronski and Northwestern’s Isaiah Huray.

Thompson’s honors include being named an all-state first-team outside linebacker by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association; WFCA All-Northwest Region OLB and OL; first-team all-HON OLB and OL; and 2018 HON Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Ohman, Huray and Ruffi also garnered all-state recognition and all of the remaining players were named to their respective all-conference teams.

Also nominated for the team were Superior’ Brady Herbst and Northwestern’s Isaac Nichols, Kyle Curphy, Sam Risley, Bryson Mazur and Jagar Stillson.