UK’s Matt Ruffalo named to Burlsworth Trophy watch list

Trophy is given to the most outstanding football player who began his career as a walk-on

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – Kentucky “Super Senior” and kicker Matt Ruffolo is one of 88 players nominated for the 2021 Burlsworth Trophy, it was announced Tuesday. The Burlsworth Trophy is given to the most outstanding football player who began his career as a walk-on and has shown outstanding performance on the field. Each nominee must have begun his first season of participation with FBS (D1) football program without financial aid of any kind from his university’s athletic department.

Ruffolo, a native of Centerville, Ohio, came to Kentucky in 2017 as a walk-on after serving as the starting kicker for two seasons on his high school team at Archbishop Alter. He did not miss an extra point for two straight seasons (2016 and 2015) and still ranks second all-time in Ohio for consecutive PATs made with 103. As a senior, he hit 4-of-5 field goals, 79-of-79 PATs, 73-of-85 kicks were touchbacks and he averaged 40.0 yards per punt. He was a key cog in helping the Knights finish as conference champs and state runner-up with a 13-1 record in 2016. Despite scholarship offers from three Division I schools, he dreamt of one day playing in the Southeastern Conference. He decided to accept a preferred walk-on position at Kentucky with hopes of one day earning the starting kicker position.

After sitting behind Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer Austin MacGinnis for two seasons, Ruffolo saw extensive playing time as the Wildcats’ primary kicker in 2019, hitting 4-of-5 field goals and 18-of-20 PATs. He totaled 30 points for the Wildcats and hit a career-long 50-yard field goal in UK’s 24-20 win over Arkansas. His field goal on the first drive of the second half, keeping UK’s momentum going after trailing 13-0 early in the game. He also made all three extra points.

In 2020, Ruffolo’s dream of becoming Kentucky’s starting kicker was fulfilled as he earned a full scholarship in the spring and started in all 11 games that season, hitting 22-of-23 extra points and 12-of-14 field goal attempts. He totaled 58 points and was UK’s second-leading scorer. He set a UK bowl record with three field goals, from 25, 26 and 20 yards, in the win over NC State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl and made all of his kicks in the win over South Carolina, including field goals of 22 and 41 yards, along with all five extra points. He also connected a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter at Missouri, tying his career long. In Kentucky’s 34-7 win at No. 18/17-ranked Tennessee, he scored 10 points, making a then-career-high 2-of-2 field goals, from 30 and 27 yards, and made all four extra points.

In 2021, Ruffolo decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s ruling to grant an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, he earned the starting role at place kicker and his career totals currently include 21-of-26 field goals and 67-of-72 extra points for 130 total points. His 80.8 percent field goal percentage is third in UK history. In eight games this season, he has hit 5-of-7 field goals and 27-of-29 extra points for 42 points as the Wildcats are 6-2 overall and ranked 17th nationally. His only two “missed” field goals were blocked by the opponent, not because of poor kicks. Ruffolo helped the Wildcats start the 6-0 for the first time since 1950 by making all three of his field goal attempts, a 43-yarder on the final play of the first half and a 21-yarder of UK’s first possession of the second half, and a clutch 27-yarder that gave UK a two-score lead in the fourth quarter at South Carolina. He is currently on the Lou Groza Award Watch List for the nation’s top kicker.

Ruffolo graduated in May of 2021 with a degree in finance and is currently working on his master’s degree in business administration from UK’s prestigious Gatton College of Business and Economics. He has been named to SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll three straight seasons.

In the award’s 12th year, the Trophy is named in honor of Brandon Burlsworth, former University of Arkansas walk-on and All-American offensive lineman. Burlsworth’s life is also the subject of a major motion picture“GREATER”, which was released in 2016. 

Without one D1 scholarship offer, Brandon Burlsworth walked on at the University of Arkansas in 1994. He became a three-year starter and was eventually named an All-American in 1998. Burlsworth was selected as the 63rd overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL draft, but was tragically killed in a car accident 11 days later. The Burlsworth Foundation was created in his memory and supports the physical and spiritual needs of children, in particular those children who have limited opportunities.

The Burlsworth Trophy award ceremony to honor the three finalists and to announce the 2021 winner will on Monday, December 6 at 7 p.m. CST at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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