Huddle up with a 49-year-old veteran who plays college football

It’s not unusual for military members to have played football. Some veterans have even pursued the sport after their service.

Ray Ruschel, however, is a different story. The 49-year-old freshman at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) returned to the gridiron as a defensive lineman this fall after a 30-year absence.

The U.S. Army veteran and current member of the North Dakota National Guard joins the Tango Alpha Lima podcast this week as the special guest as part of a Veterans Day tribute. In addition to taking business classes at NDSCS, playing football and his Guard commitment, he also works full time.

Ruschel said boot camp was tougher than training camp, which was still grueling.

“It was for sure a challenge, trying to hang in with these young kids,” he recalled. “I’m older than most of their dads. These guys accepted me like I’m one of their own. It was tremendous.”

He’s averaging about a tackle a game for North Dakota SCS (9-1). On Sunday, his team defeated Minnesota State, 19-0, to win the Division III MCAC Football Championship.

Ruschel addresses a number of topics:

• Teamwork: He recalls his unit agreeing to achieve a passing rate of 100% for the Army physical fitness test. “After making the decision to go out for football, they pushed me even harder. And our squad was the only one with a 100% pass rate. It propelled me even more for football.”

• Transitioning: “It’s been a trying experience, especially since I just got back from deployment. Getting enthralled into the workforce again, and school and homework, football practice and gym sessions. Very little sleep.”

• His role with the Guard. “It’s my job to shoot the bad stuff out of the sky.”

• His favorite Avenger: The Hulk.

And don’t miss Ashley Gorbulja and her Leslie Knope-ish plans for Veterans Day.

Check out this week’s podcast and the more than 150 Tango Alpha Lima episodes available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on iTunes, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.