Matt Ruffolo's goal is perfection. UK's kicker knows heated tweets will come after misses
LEXINGTON — When he’s had a bad day at the office, Matt Ruffolo tends to stay offline.
It’s not that the Kentucky football kicker is so fragile as to be wounded by the digs on Twitter or slams on Instagram that follow his infrequent misses.
But Ruffolo learned a long time ago he has a thankless job; that the “collegekickers” hashtag wasn’t invented on Twitter to heap praise on his position; that credit comes for long kicks and game winners and not much else.
“And then when you miss one, that's when everyone's going to come at you,” Ruffolo said this week, as the Wildcats prepared for Saturday’s game against South Carolina. “So as a kicker, you know that that's going to happen.”
He wasn’t surprised when the heated tweets came last week after No. 13 Kentucky’s special-teams meltdown in a 22-19 loss at Ole Miss. Ruffolo’s mostly learned to avoid them now — except the ones friends send, thinking he might find them funny.
Sometimes he does.
When he doesn’t laugh at them, he shrugs them off.
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“I know those people probably aren't in the right headspace when they’re sending those things,” Ruffolo said. “They’re hiding behind a keyboard. So that really doesn't affect me. It used to.”
But Ruffolo has thicker skin than he used to.
Ironically, the Rebels helped him develop it.
Ruffolo's career low might have come in a 2020 loss the Rebels. His missed extra point in overtime would have tied the game. Instead, Kentucky lost 42-41.
“It’s funny, my two bad games in my career, it’s Ole Miss,” Ruffolo said.
(Coincidentally — or maybe mystically — miss is right there in the name.)
After that 2020 game, they came for Ruffolo on social media.
It was the second game of the season, and Ruffolo still was a relatively green kicker then. He’d made 4 of 5 field goals and hit 17 of 19 extra points over the final seven games of 2019 and the 2020 season opener.
And while that Ole Miss loss wasn’t entirely his fault, it was hard not to single him out. Some fans did, publicly.
“That really built my mental toughness right there,” Ruffolo said. “I really didn't know, like, ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’ And then the rest of the season I think I only missed one more time?”
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He’s right. One field goal. He was perfect on extra points the rest of that season. He’s made 109 of 115 PATs in his career, a success rate of 94.8%. He’s hit 80.5% of his field goal tries, with two of his eight misses coming this season.
Ruffolo believes he’s making all of them.
It’s part of his process.
First, Ruffolo lines up and takes three steps back. He looks for a target beyond the uprights — usually a spot on the scoreboard; if that’s not in his sight line he chooses a random fan — and focuses on it. He takes two steps to the right and reevaluates the target.
Then he gives himself a little internal assurance before the kick.
“When you tell yourself, ‘Hey, I don't know if I'm going to make this’ or ‘Hey, I'm going to miss,' you are going to miss it. One-hundred percent of the time. When you tell yourself you're going to make it, your mind translates that to your body.”
Still, every now and then, you miss.
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Ruffolo said it’s much more common for a kick to feel bad off the foot and go in than to feel great coming off and go awry. But sometimes he’s surprised.
He thought he hit booted the missed field goal at Ole Miss pretty well, for example. So did his coach.
Mark Stoops noted that it was “gusty” at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. And he doesn’t want to get in Ruffolo’s head — or over-coach his kicker — based on a single miss.
"I thought he hit a good kick, so I don’t want to overreact to that,” Stoops said.
He was much more concerned with the block — more on the hold than the snap, Stoops said — and the bad snap on PAT tries.
“Our guys have done it a thousand times correctly — snapped, held and kicked,” Stoops said. "Very good. That (performance) Saturday is not good. Kind of embarrassing. So we’ve got to get those things cleaned up and do the routine.”
Ruffolo is confident they’ll get it right.
“No one’s perfect,” he said. “But the goal is to be perfect.”
He won’t be, because no one is. And when he misses, he knows what you’ll say.
“People say, ‘You’re a Division I kicker, how are you missing? All you do is kick,’” Ruffolo said. “And it’s like, let’s take (quarterback Will) Levis for example. He misses a pass, no one is saying much or writing much about it. But all he does is pass, right? Now obviously I know Will isn’t going to be perfect. And no kicker is going to be perfect.”
It’s not so much that kickers are held to a higher standard. Their teammates just get more chances to make up for mistakes. Levis can miss a pass and throw another on the next play. A receiver who blows a route can score a touchdown on the same series.
When a kicker misses, he has to stew in it a while. And so do fuming fans.
So they get mad. And they get online. Ruffolo gets it, even if he doesn't like it.
Sometimes he even sees what they say.
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Family members — including a brother, Michael, who kicked at Dayton — take the social media temperature for Ruffolo and urge him to ignore tweeted critiques. But sometimes a friend or teammate will send him something they think he’ll find funny.
Punter Colin Goodfellow shared a couple tweets last weekend suggesting maybe Ruffolo got dumped by an Ole Miss sorority girl.
Ruffolo said he “got a kick out of it.”
It’s unclear if the pun was intended.
But this much was apparent: Ruffolo knows the reality of his role.
“I’d rather hear, ‘He’s a reliable, consistent kicker’ instead of somebody making fun of me,” Ruffolo said. “But it is what it is. None of that stuff ever affects me. I signed up to play football. I knew what I was getting into.”