Dom Amore: Noe Ruelas will get to show off record-setting leg for UConn football team

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·8 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

This is the story of a placekicker who could have punted on his dream school, but didn’t.

Noe Ruelas kicked his way from Hall High in West Hartford to UConn with a series of long field goals in 2019, including a CIAC-record 56-yarder. A few months after he committed, Ruelas learned Joe McFadden, a five-star kicking recruit from Texas, was also joining the Huskies.

“You really can’t be disappointed,” Ruelas said. “You have to understand at the end of the day, college football is a business, so you have to home in on your craft and do the best you can. I’m committed to stay here.”

Kicking is a fraternity of its own, but a football team needs one kicker at a time.

“Most kids would have considered transferring,” Hall High coach Frank Robinson III said. “Noe never, for a second, wanted to transfer. We talked about it, and he was completely up for the challenge. When he didn’t win the spot, he felt the same way, ‘I’m going to keep working hard. I’m going to help UConn as much as I can.’ He’s the ultimate team player. He perseveres if things don’t go his way and is never bitter.”

McFadden proved to be as advertised at UConn, at least in the limited opportunities a kicker gets on a 1-11 team, going 19 for-19 on extra points and 12 for 17 on field goals. He, too, has been a vociferous cheerleader for the program through good and difficult times. But just before the start of the first practice in August, McFadden tore the ACL in his kicking leg and was lost for the season.

“He’s a great teammate, a great competitor,” Ruelas said. “He’ll still help us watch film. He’s a great kicker, and we’ll bounce ideas off each other, technique-wise. He’s a great punter as well, so he’ll help out our punters, too.”

Walking through the Shenkman Training Center, McFadden offered his encouragement.

“Noe’s got a great attitude. He’s super consistent,” McFadden said. “Just take it one step it at a time. If he goes out and does what he does, he’s going to be successful, no doubt.”

So coach Jim Mora arrived at UConn knowing he had one of the top kicking prospects in the country. He had no idea he had a backup with Ruela’s background. Only last week Mora learned from state media that Ruelas had those 50-plus yarders on his high school resume.

“State record?” Mora said. “I hope he can make some of those for us. At the end of spring, I went to [special teams coach] Doug Shearer and said, ‘Man, this kid can kick anywhere. I’m sure glad he’s with us.’”

Ruelas played soccer growing up in Colorado, then as a freshman he tried out for the Broomfield (Colorado) High football team — and not necessarily as a kicker. “I actually played safety and wide receiver,” Noelas said. “Then my coach was, ‘Let’s try kicking,’ and I was pretty good at it.”

Ruelas trained with Matt Thompson at One-on-One kicking and started going to the camps. He moved to West Hartford, where his family opened a restaurant, the Ocho Cafe, and two kickers with outrageous range showed up in town. Abe Ruelas, who now plays at the University of New England, and Noe.

Robinson saw enough in practice to send Noe out to try a 53-yarder against Glastonbury, then the 56-yarder against Simsbury, and he made them both. “He’s definitely clutch on those deep field goals,” Robinson said.

Then came the interest from college coaches.

“It’s a dream. I always wanted to come to UConn and help them win and turn this program around,” Ruelas said.

If UConn was in a fortuitous spot, with two solid kickers, Ruelas is in a good place, too. Mora, with his vast experience in the NFL, has coached some of the greatest to ever line them up, with Hall-of-Famer Morten Anderson, who comes up a lot in their conversations, at the top of that list.

“I look at the way they prepare,” Mora said. “Morten used to use my office to watch film, so I was around him a lot, and the professionalism with which he went about his job was amazing. He was meticulous. He sent me information a few years ago on how he did things, which I try to pass on to kickers.”

Mora, like most coaches, tries to simulate competitive pressure for his kickers with drills in practice, and Ruelas has been passing the tests.

The first thing is their demeanor,” Mora said. “How do they handle the pressure of the moment? How do they come back from a miss? Look at their face, are they uptight or are they relaxed? I see a guy that’s relaxed.”

Ruelas stuck with it, and now, albeit in unfortunate circumstances, he’ll get the chance to show off his big leg starting Aug. 27 in the high altitude at Utah State.

“I don’t think any moment will be too big for him,” Robinson said. “Because he’s so calm. He’s not worried about the pressure of it. He never was. I think he’ll be just fine.”

More for your Sunday read:

What’s with UConn’s nonconference schedule?

College basketball fans have been talking about cupcake schedules since the days Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown teams played St. Leo’s and Southern Connecticut. When the UConn men released the nonconference slate with home games against, in order, Stonehill, Boston University, Buffalo, UNC Wilmington, Delaware State, Oklahoma State and LIU, there was understandable grumbling given the elevated ticket prices.

So there is only one big-ticket nonconference home game, vs. OK State, Dec. 1, part of the Big East/Big 12 Challenge. In the AAC, there was greater need to schedule up for RPI/resume purposes. Now there are 20 Big East games, 10 at home, and with most major conferences moving in that direction there are fewer games to be had.

“We’re bracing for a better Big East than we’ve seen the last two years,” coach Dan Hurley said. “And you calculate that into what you’re doing with your nonconference schedule. When you have 20 monster games, home and away, winning any game in this league is a bear.”

The five “buy” games against mid-majors, Hurley said, are more challenging than in the past.

Five mid-majors, with Buffalo out of the MAC, is about par for the course. The program doesn’t need a tougher nonconference schedule for competitive purposes; soon UConn could get a Big Ten opponent as part of the Gavitt Games. But it is healthy to get a marquee home game or two on the schedule early, if only to begin getting state fans geeked for the season. Those first five games? ZZZZZZZ.

Sunday short takes

  • Former East Catholic pitcher Frank Mozzicato, the No. 7 pick in the 2021 draft, got his first pro win in the Royals organization on July 29. His ERA (5.40) is high, but he has 60 strikeouts in 48 innings, and at 19, he is 2.7 years younger than the average player in the Carolina League.

  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman made one move too many before the deadline. Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader is a head-scratcher, even if a fifth starter is not a key ingredient for the postseason. There’s no way of predicting when Bader, with plantar fasciitis, will be ready to play elite center field defense. If, as some speculate, a corresponding trade fell through, then, well, wow.

  • Not buying into the theory that teams don’t want to trade with the Mets for fear of Steve Cohen’s deep pockets. The Nationals weren’t going to send Juan Soto within the NL East, and the Mets farm system is top heavy, with three top prospects, Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio, but not the depth to make the kind of deals they may have wanted.

  • Now at center stage for UConn women: It’s your time, Azzi Fudd.

  • When you see Aaron Judge’s home run pace compared to Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Barry Bonds, et al, you may wonder why you see Ruth’s 1928 season. In 1927, Ruth hit 17 homers in September to chase down No. 60. In ‘28, he was far ahead of the record pace, hitting his 41st on July 23, but cooled off, by his standards, and finished with 54.

Summer reading

John Nogowski’s new book, “Last Time Out: Big League Farewell’s Of Baseball’s Greats” is a compilation of 25 Hall-of-Famers’ final games, such as Ted Williams’ home run in his last at-bat in 1960. If you like baseball history, there’ll be some fun stuff for you.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com.