When Tom Ruley ’13 ran onto Fisher Field at Lafayette College for what would be the final game of his Lehigh career, he had two things on his mind: securing a win, and fighting through a hyperextended elbow that had hampered him for weeks.
“The week of practice before the game, we spent a lot of time in sports med trying to heal it. They had to literally plaster my arm to the table and had to bend it to test the range of motion – it was probably one of the most painful things I had ever done,” said Ruley, who started at center on Lehigh’s offensive line this season.
With his elbow heavily taped, Ruley made it through those practices, and was optimistic that he would be able to perform with his classmates at his last Lehigh-Lafayette game. But on game day, he experienced some setbacks.
Ruley made it through warm-ups and playing during Lehigh’s first offensive possession, and then mad a tough call: He pulled himself out of the game.
“If the injury was in my left arm it would’ve been alright, but as a center, I’ve got to be able to feel the ball and snap it. My elbow just wasn’t ready to go,” said Ruley, a South Dakota native who now lives in Baltimore, Md.
Instead of being disappointed, he was a positive influence on the sidelines. Ruley gave junior Matt Lippincott, his on-field replacement, as much advice as possible, and cheered his teammates on during a rough stretch when Lehigh fell behind in the first quarter.
He was confident that Lippincott would perform well under pressure, and he was right: The Mountain Hawks ultimately won the game 38-21, their fifth consecutive victory over the Leopards.
“I’m not a big yeller or screamer. I try to set a tone, keep everybody together and calm and make sure everyone understand what’s going on,” said Ruley.
“That’s the way I know how to lead.”
“Tom Ruley is your classic example of someone who leads by example,” says Andy Coen, head coach of Lehigh’s football team. “He is an incredibly hard worker who was totally committed to our football program and his teammates. Our program stresses character and trust as a foundation, and Tom is a great example of both.”
Ruley, who will graduate with a degree in industrial engineering in May, has taken on other leadership and volunteer roles. He has volunteered with Lehigh’s C.O.A.C.H. program, and says the Adopt-a-Family program, which takes place every December, is especially meaningful. Ruley and his brother were raised by his mother in a single-parent home until she re-married, so he feels he can relate to families who face challenges around the holidays.
“I love giving back to people, and I understand not having a lot of money. Christmastime is an especially difficult time for people, let alone trying to make it by every day,” said Ruley. “Being able to put smiles on people’s faces is huge, and understanding that all those kids we work with look up to us makes a difference.”
At Lehigh, Ruley says he learned a lot about what it means to lead. Former Mountain Hawk lineman in recent years, including Keith Schauder ’12, Jim Liebler ’12 and current Jacksonville Jaguar Will Rackley ’11, guided him as role models on the field. He also believes the rigors of his coursework have prepared him for the professional world.
“The work here at Lehigh is challenging, but it builds character. You’re better off having gone through those challenges,” said Ruley. “I really enjoy what I’ve been able to do here.”
Story by Karl Brisseaux '11
Posted on Thursday, April 25, 2013