Every Crusader knows that Capital is home to many fascinating faculty members, but if you are not involved with athletics on campus, you may not have had the privilege of encountering Coach Keith Rucker.
Coach Rucker is currently Capital University’s assistant football coach, where he oversees the Crusaders’ defensive line — which is fitting considering he played defense for seven years in the NFL. He was also an All-American the three years he played football at Ohio Wesleyan and was the first Division III player to be invited to play at the Hula Bowl.
Rucker’s athletic resume is impressive, but it’s clear that coaching is about more than just sports for Rucker. He was the youngest of eight siblings to a single mother, and attributes much of his upbringing to his coaches.
“Besides my mom and my brother who actually raised me throughout high school, my coaches have been the most inspirational people in my life. I can name every last coach I’ve had since I was 6-years-old,” Rucker said. “Two of them still come out to my non-profit event, which is great because I’m doing what they did, which is giving back.”
With the help of his coaches, and after attending an NFL combine, Rucker began to realize that his life-long dream of playing in the NFL might be possible. He recalls going home to watch the draft his senior year of college. His name wasn’t selected during the two-day draft, but on the drive back to school a highway overpass read, “Keith Rucker is a Phoenix Cardinal.”
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Did I miss myself get drafted?’” Rucker said.
Throughout the course of his NFL career, Rucker played for the Cardinals, Bengals, Redskins, and Chiefs. In regard to how his time playing professionally has shaped his coaching, Rucker replied, “My experience in the NFL taught me teamwork, and how to compete with people to get a goal accomplished. I had to learn to do my job and work with some people I might not necessarily like. You gotta be able to work with somebody to achieve a common goal, and that’s basically what my experience in the NFL taught me.”
However, Coach Rucker doesn’t apply his experience solely to the athletic field. In 2004, he founded the Reach 4 The Sky Foundation, a charity organization that provides completely free athletic camps for children ages 6-14.
He decided he wanted to open a camp of his own when he was working for another NFL player’s camp. After meeting a family that was only able to send one child to the camp a year because of the steep cost, Rucker decided to start one for free, so parents were able to send all of their kids to camp every year.
Reach 4 the Sky offers a free camp every summer in Cincinnati and Chicago. Rucker doesn’t do it all alone though, his family is active in the success of the camps. For his charity, he has also partnered with General Mills and receives grants from the NFL.
Coach Rucker ultimately has his goals set on coaching football for a Division I college, or perhaps even the NFL. In 2014 and 2015, he assisted the defensive line coaches for the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s been a good ride, I love what I do,” Rucker said. “As long as I’m around I’m going to be doing it. There’s a lot of life skills and lessons that come out of giving back. The path I went hasn’t been the traditional path. From Division III to the NFL to having my own foundation, to still being able to coach and teach. Right now, I filled out a grant from the NFL, and they’re paying for me to get my master’s degree in athletic administration. So, ya know, if the coaching thing doesn’t work out I can go back and be an AD or something at a high school and really be able to help some kids.”
All photos courtesy of Ryan Gasser, Capital University’s Sports Information Director.