One Man Started Playing College Football at Age 49

He's a year older than his coach

North Dakota State College of Science
The entrance to the North Dakota State College of Science.
Marketingcats, CC BY-SA 4.0

Theoretically, there’s no age limit when it comes to playing college sports. In practice, most players suiting up at the college level — especially for Division I and Division II schools — will be doing so within a few years of their high school graduation. But there are always exceptions, and someone who held off on going to college for reasons related to work or military service could theoretically have a go at it later in life.

A recent Sports Illustrated article noted that one man, Tom Thompson, played for Austin College in 2009 at the age of 61. (He was a kicker.) The latest college athlete to compete against other athletes less than half his age is currently doing so as a defensive lineman for the North Dakota State College of Science Wildcats, who compete as part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. His name is Ray Ruschel, and he’s 49 — just over a year older than his team’s head coach.

Writing at The Washington Post, Cathy Free has more details on Ruschel’s unorthodox path to the gridiron. Ruschel had played football in high school, but stopped when his time in the Army (and, later, the National Guard) began. As Free detailed in her article, Ruschel works as a mechanic and decided to take some business courses at his local college — which was where he got the idea to try out for the football team.

Evidently, it clicked — as of now, he’s made two tackles in the three games the Wildcats have played so far. It’s an unexpected path to playing college football, but it seems to have worked out well for him.

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