Coming home

Bobby Ruff, then a sophomore linebacker at Charleston Southern, with his father Brian Ruff, who was an All-American when he played football at The Citadel. Paul Zoeller/Staff/File

Bobby Ruff could not begin to count the number of Citadel football games he sat through as a youngster. As the youngest son of arguably the greatest player in the history of the program, Ruff grew up quite the fan of the blue and white.

A childhood dream will be realized Saturday night when The Citadel hosts Charleston Southern, and Ruff will take the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium in a football uniform for the very first time.

But not for the team one might expect. Ruff is a sophomore linebacker at Charleston Southern, and though he saw action on special teams in the Bucs’ 20-18 victory over the Bulldogs last season, that game was at Buccaneer Field.

Ruff finally gets to play in the stadium where his father played, but on a different sideline.

“As a kid, I would sit in the stands and picture myself out there wearing that Citadel blue, no doubt about it,” said Ruff, who began attending wrestling camps at The Citadel when he was 5 years old. “I imagined running out on the field. I was definitely a fan growing up. It’s going to be weird coming out the other side.”

Brian Ruff was the first Citadel player to have his jersey retired. He was a two-time Southern Conference player of the year, a two-time Southern Conference athlete of the year and an Associated Press first-team All-American in 1976. To this day, he is easily the most decorated football player in school history.

So imagine the surprise when his youngest son, an all-star linebacker at West Ashley High School, opted to attend Charleston Southern. It’s not like he decided to attend Furman — The Citadel’s biggest rival — but choosing not to follow in his father’s footsteps certainly was a head scratcher for some.

Ruff was barely recruited as a high school player, despite impressive stats and plenty of accolades. He happened to end up a Buccaneer almost by accident.

A last-minute decision to attend a prospect camp at CSU in the summer prior to his senior season proved to be one of destiny. After performing well at the camp, Bobby earned an offer and accepted in the early fall.

“You know, things happen for a reason and in my mind, Bobby was meant to end up at Charleston Southern,” Brian Ruff said. “CSU is where he needed to be. The school itself was a great fit for Bobby and to be honest, the last thing he needed was to play where I played and have to feel pressure to live up to what I did. Bobby is his own person.”

Bobby Ruff has never questioned or regretted his decision to attend CSU.

“It came down to where I thought was the best place for me and CSU was definitely the right choice for me,” he said. “I was never comfortable with the military aspect of The Citadel and at the time I was really growing in my Christian faith. CSU was where God wanted me to be.”

Now Brian and wife Jody attend every Charleston Southern game. This season, Bobby is a second-team linebacker and is playing regularly in every game. He has 12 tackles through the first three games of the season. Bobby excels as a pass rusher from the outside in passing situations, which could limit his time on the field against The Citadel’s run-oriented attack.

“It’s hard to say how much he will play this week,” Brian said.

A little on the thin side when he arrived on campus, Bobby is now 6-3, 210 pounds. He is stronger, faster and plays the game with a high level of passion and intensity.

“He’s a better athlete right now than I was at his age,” Brian said. “He has worked really hard to get bigger and he’s not that skinny kid running around out there now. I’m really proud of the way he has worked and developed and hopefully there is more to come down the road.”

For his part, Bobby is trying to stay focused on the task at hand, if that’s possible.

“It’s not about Brian Ruff and Bobby Ruff, it’s about CSU and The Citadel,” he said. “I have tried to prepare for this game like any other game. Sure, there is some emotion to it but I think that will all go away once the game starts. Then it’s just football. It’s going to be fun, but every game is fun for me.”