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As defensive lineman for NDSCS, 49-year-old proves you're never too old to pursue your dreams

Ray Ruschel says despite fulfilling his dream of playing college football at nearly the age of 50, he is most proud of serving his country.

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North Dakota National Guard Sgt. Ray Ruschel is wrapped with a Quilt of Valor by the Red River Valley Quilters.
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WAHPETON, N.D. — Ray Ruschel was busy collecting autographs on a helmet from members of his favorite football team, the North Dakota State College of Science Wildcats on Thursday, Dec. 8.

The team just returned to campus after losing by two points in the national championship game.

"It was a little heartbreaking, but at the same time it was a tremendous experience to even go to nationals," said Ruschel.

The 49-year-old is a defensive linemen on the team.

"I never thought it would blow up the way it is," said Ruschel, who's a business management major taking 15 credits this semester.

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At night, Ruschel works the graveyard shift full time at Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative.

The father of two grown children is also a Sergeant with the North Dakota National Guard.

His insane schedule caught the eye of ESPN's College GameDay which in turn caught the eye of Kristie Berg, who is a member of the Red River Valley Quilters.

"He had something to prove to his younger teammates that he can serve his country, serve himself, and serve his school," Berg said.

His resume includes three deployments including Afghanistan.

"His story was not shared completely with us, because I think he saw things he maybe did not want to share with us," said Deb Mitskog, also a member of the quilters club.

The Red River Quilters Club on Thursday wrapped Ruschel with a Quilt of Valor during a special ceremony at the school with his teammates in the stands.

"Knowing the support, and handcraftness and the love that these ladies put into this stuff is truly an honest and favorable thing," Ruschel said.

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While he's living the dream playing college football, Ruschel said he would never trade his experience in the military for anything in the world.

"It has given me the perspective, the discipline and drive that I need in life," he said.

Ruschel hopes to make the team again next season to once again inspire others with his message of if you want it to go for it

"If you want something you have to take the steps to achieve the things you truly want, it's never too late in life," said Ruschel, who's on track to graduate in December 2023.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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