September 8, 2010

Survivor on and off the field

More news about: Oberlin

Oberlin senior linebacker Ron Rupard has seen more than his fair share of challenges and that was long before he ever got to play in a North Coast Athletic Conference football game.

Heading into his freshman year at Oberlin, Rupard got his required immunizations before moving into the dorms. However, he suffered a reaction to the meningitis vaccination and it left him paralyzed from the waist down. At that point, Rupard's concerns were not only about his football career but his quality of life in general.

"It was really scary because we had like six doctors working my case and not a single one knew exactly what was wrong with me. I never got a definitive answer," he said. "I went through two or three spinal taps checking for Lyme disease. One doctor thought I might have had multiple sclerosis. That particular doctor said I would never play football again, so I was very scared.

"I wasn't sure if I was even going to be able to go to Oberlin," Rupard added. "I certainly wasn't sure if I would play football because each morning when I woke up, they'd come and poke my legs with pins to see if I could feel it and I couldn't. I couldn't move and my parents were obviously very upset and it was very hard for them. I was scared that I wasn't going to play football or worse, never get to walk again."

Up until the paralysis, Rupard had been a perfectly healthy athlete who starred in three sports during his high school days.

Despite not knowing what he was suffering from at the time, Rupard continued to hope for a recovery. One day, he woke up and realized the feeling that once left his legs had returned. Thought it was a painful realization, it was also a very happy moment.

"On one particular day, he poked my leg and I'm like, 'Ouch.' That didn't really register with me right away," he said. "They poked it again and I'm like, 'Ouch, would you quit doing that?' He kind of looked up at me and they started massaging my legs and the feeling came back. I called my parents right away and got them up there. It was very, very exciting. It was kind of indescribable what that poke in the leg felt like."

With feeling back in his limbs, Rupard thought about returning to the football field, but before playing again, he had to inform Oberlin of his situation.

He called his recruiting coordinator at Oberlin and explained the whole ordeal before expressing his desire to continue his playing career. Though he wanted to play, Rupard first had to regain all of the strength that was lost during his stay in the hospital.

"When I got to campus, I was slower than everybody else; I couldn't touch my toes, couldn't squat," he said. "I squatted 510 pounds when I was a senior in high school and I couldn't squat like 100 when I got into camp. We have a conditioning test right when we get to football camp at Oberlin and I passed it. That was a pretty big deal for me because having two weeks to get ready between getting out of the hospital and getting to camp, I was able to get ready and pass my conditioning test."

Throughout all the difficulties he endured getting physically ready to play college football, Rupard set a standard for dedication that his teammates and coaches followed.

"You lose the use of your limbs and there may not be a more severe thing happen to you as an athlete," said Oberlin coach Jeff Ramsey. "We have a quote on the wall from Jerry West, 'It's difficult to practice only on the days you feel good.' There were many, many days, the majority of them, where he just felt rotten. He was sore and tired and his body still wasn't working right.

"Here's a guy that went through so much as an athlete," he continued. "If I ever run across a guy that's not feeling good, I just say, 'Look at him' and young guys will say, 'What?' I'll say, 'Did you know that guy was paralyzed for 15 days and didn't miss a practice ever?' That kind of opens their eyes to what commitment and perseverance and persistence is."

Through the temporary paralysis, Rupard learned how strong he was as a person and how blessed he was to have another chance at playing football. It is an opportunity he will not take for granted.

"Any time I did lapse and start getting a little down about struggling, because I did, I struggled my freshman year, my stepdad would always tell me, 'You love playing football. You've gotten this far, just stick with it,'" said Rupard. "There's nothing like going out on the field on Saturday afternoons and playing football. It was very humbling to be able to enjoy that experience.

"This very well may be the last time I ever play football and so I'm definitely consuming myself with the idea of playing ball," he concluded. "My freshman year, toward the middle or end of the season, I actually got in and got a sack. That is my only career sack, so far, and this year, I'd obviously like to get a few more sacks, maybe get a pick. I want to go 10-0, that's every football player's dream. We started off with a big overtime win that first week, so I'm going to keep pushing myself, pushing everybody else to be part of something special."

News and Notes
Baldwin-Wallace opened the 2010 season with a 38-14 home win against Wooster last Thursday evening. It was the first time the Yellow Jackets played on a Thursday night and they did not disappoint. Transfer quarterback Ryan O'Rourke completed nine of 13 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns against one interception, while running backs Tim Miker (11 carries, 74 yards, one touchdown) and John McGraw (13, 72) combined for 146 yards rushing. Both runners averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

It was nearly 23 years in the making, but Case Western Reserve earned a 30-13 victory over John Carroll. The two schools had not met on the gridiron since the 1988 season. Spartans senior running back Billy Deitman ran for a career-best 164 yards and one touchdown as Case improved its regular season winning streak to 32 games, dating back to the end of the 2006 season. Joey Baum, who replaced graduated record-setter Dan Whalen, threw for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite a 42-23 loss to Heidelberg, Alma junior punter/return specialist/wide receiver/resident Superman Austin Montgomery had quite a season opener. Montgomery punted five times, pinning three inside the 20-yard line and also averaging 41.8 yards per punt.

He returned two kickoffs for 39 yards and caught three passes for 78 yards and a pair of touchdowns. For his efforts, Montgomery earned the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association's Special Teams Player of the Week award.

Grove City quarterback Clayton Hall had a record-breaking day in a loss to Carnegie Mellon last weekend. Hall gained 228 yards rushing and accounted for 362 yards of total offense. He set the school's single-game record for most rushing yards by a quarterback.

Great Lakes Region Teams in D3football.com Top 25:
No. 2 Mount Union (OAC): No change, will open season at UW-Oshkosh Saturday afternoon
No. 8 Wittenberg (NCAC): No change following 48-6 win over Olivet Saturday
No. 11 Ohio Northern (OAC): No change after 35-21 win over UW-River Falls Thursday afternoon
No. 15 Thomas More (PAC): Down two spots after bye week, plays at Hanover Saturday afternoon
No. 17 Trine (MIAA): Up two spots following 55-7 win over Manchester last Thursday evening
No. 18 Otterbein (OAC): Up two spots after 38-0 victory over Husson
No. 20 Washington and Jefferson (PAC): Up one spot following bye week, opens season at Delaware Valley Saturday afternoon
No. 22 Wabash (NCAC): Up two spots and will open season against Wooster on Saturday afternoon
Others Receiving Votes: Capital (OAC), Case Western Reserve (UAA)

Games of the Week
Wooster (0-1) at Wabash (0-0), Saturday, Sept. 11, 1 p.m.: The road back to the top of the North Coast Athletic Conference begins Saturday for the Wabash Little Giants. Last year, Wabash exploited Wooster's secondary for 283 yards and four touchdowns from quarterback Chase Belton.

Though the Fighting Scots bottled up the running game, allowing 126 total yards on 40 carries, they could not stop Kody LeMond from catching 10 passes, gaining 197 yards and scoring all four of Wabash's offensive touchdowns.

Thomas More (0-0) at Hanover (1-0), Saturday, Sept. 11, 1 p.m.: The Hanover Panthers look to keep the momentum going after a 28-27 overtime win at Centre last Saturday night, while the Saints are hoping to start the season well before beginning defense of their back-to-back Presidents' Athletic Conference championships.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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