Sophomore's career is alive and kicking at UConn

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Aug. 6—STORRS — Placekicker Noe Ruelas entered the 2022 UConn football season determined to approach practice each day as if he would be the team's starter at the position. That way if incumbent Joe McFadden was unable to play, he would be able to step in and perform at a high level.

Ruelas, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from West Hartford, had his window of opportunity open at the end of offseason workouts.

McFadden, who started all 12 games and made 12 of his 17 field goal attempts and all 19 extra point attempts while handling kickoff and punting duties in 2021, got his foot stuck in the grass during the team's last offseason training session and tore the ACL in his kicking leg, leaving a void Ruelas is confident he can fill.

"I am just trying to do whatever is best to help this team win," Ruelas said after practice Tuesday at the Shenkman Center. "I know that Joe is out, and he was a great asset to this team as well as a great teammate and competitor. I hope he gets better soon, but I am ready to help this team win whatever way I can."

Ruelas played soccer growing up in Broomfield, Colorado, but decided to try out for the football team as a freshman at the local high school.

He had not intended to be a kicker in football, but when he saw that the team was holding a competition for the position, he gave it a try, believing he would have a leg up given his soccer background. He won the job.

Ruelas moved to West Hartford with his parents prior to his sophomore year and provided Hall with something few high school football teams in Connecticut have: a consistent field goal kicker.

He drilled a 52-yard field goal as a junior and as a senior, he broke the state record when he booted a 56-yarder through the uprights in September of 2019.

UConn did not play any games during Ruelas' freshman season in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. The Huskies brought in McFadden, who was ranked the fifth-best kicker nationally by 247sports, as part of their 2021 recruiting class and he earned the starting job last season.

Ruelas could have entered the transfer portal and started fresh elsewhere, but instead he put his head down and got to work.

"You can't really be disappointed, at the end of the day college football is a business," Ruelas said Tuesday. "So, you just have to hone in on your craft and do what you can. I was committed to staying here and doing my best to compete."

Ruelas caught coach Jim Mora's attention with his performance in spring practice. By the time the team's spring workouts ended, Mora was convinced that Ruelas "could kick anywhere" and was "glad he is with us."

Ruelas has continued to inspire confidence in his coaching staff and teammates in the first week of fall camp.

"Today we did a period called red zone lockout where we keep score and the kickers become very important in how we keep score," Mora said Tuesday. "I wanted to see Noe today go out there and bury them, and he did it. ... The most important thing is that the ball goes through the uprights. They are going through right now, so I am happy about that."

Ruelas has relied heavily on McFadden's mentorship as he prepares for the season.

"He'll help us watch film, tell us stuff," Ruelas said Tuesday. "He's a great kicker, so we bounce ideas off each other technique-wise and stuff. So he's still able to help us out there."

Ruelas believes the key to success in kicking is approaching each opportunity with a positive mindset.

"You can't let one miss affect your whole day, because then it turns into a terrible day," Ruelas said Tuesday. "If you miss one kick, you go on to the next and just have to make that kick."

Mora had not known about Ruelas' 56-yard field goal until Tuesday, but he lit up when he was told it had set a state record.

"State record? Well good, I bet he'll make some of those for us down the line," Mora said Tuesday with a smile.

Extra points

Mora rotated each of the team's quarterbacks in with the first team Thursday in an effort to give them equal reps as the competition for the starting job continues. ... Wide receivers Cam Ross, Aaron Turner, Nigel Fitzgerald, Kylish Hicks, and Kevin Dunn did not practice. They were all rehabbing minor injuries on the sidelines. ... Center Jake Guidone did not practice. The first team offensive line was Valentin Senn (LT), Noel Ofori-Nyadu (LG), Chris Fortin (C), Christian Haynes (RG), and Chase Lundt (RT).

For daily updates on high school sports in JI's coverage area, follow Kyle Maher on Twitter: @KyleBMaher, Facebook: Kyle Maher, and Instagram: @KyleBMaher.