TDA: You took an unlikely path to Alabama. What made you transfer from the Citadel to The University of Alabama of all places? Were you a fan at all growing up?
RG: A dream of mine to play for the University of Alabama. Alabama didn’t recruit me out of high school. I wasn’t ideal size, or speed, but I got offered by a few DI AA schools. Coach Ellis Johnson was the head coach then, and was the previous defensive coordinator at Alabama. To me, I thought, what a better person to play for than Johnson who had Alabama ties. I started two years at the Citadel and talked to my father about fulfilling a dream of mine and went to coach Johnson and told him about my dream and he was reluctant to do so, but I told him I just had to do it. They said it was going to be a tough rode but I just had to do it.
I transferred, redshirted, sat out and was on the scout team doing the grunt work and being the scout defensive lineman. One of the biggest plays I made on the scout team was when I was playing as David Pollack (Former Georgia Bulldogs defensive end) and I made an interception and coach Shula got mad and chewed me out, but one of the scout coaches pulled me aside and said “Rudy you’re doing a great job.” I didn’t have a scholarship and I was running out of money, and I met with Coach Randy Ross and Shula about possibly get a scholarship or any aid, and they looked at me and said “We’re down scholarships, and we don’t have any scholarship space, but if you come back, we may have something in the spring.” I looked at them and shook their hands and said ‘I appreciate the opportunity’ and told them I won’t be back. I went back to my room not knowing what to do. Then I’ll never forget I was at home and it was on Christmas Eve, and my phone rang and it was coach shula, and he said “What’s going on Rudy? I just wanted to give you an early Christmas present and give you a full scholarship for spring semester.” It was a big testament and I just gave God all the praise.
TDA: Your story is very heartfelt and endearing to Tide fans. As a former walk-on, talk about that journey in what it takes to get noticed and how extra hard you have to work to see playing time.
RG: For me, what I always strived to do was to make sure that coaches were always mentioning me. I was the first one to practice and the last one to leave. I was undersized, but I wanted to make sure that the coaches would have to tell me, ‘Rudy, you need to stop.’ The road was definitely not easy.
TDA: Many people liken your story to the former Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruttiger. Did that story inspire you?
RG: We actually still stay in contact to this day. I would watch that movie every single day. My roommate would get sick of me, because I would always watch it. When things would get tough, I would just watch it and it would motivate me. It helped me through that time.
TDA: How much did it mean to you when you saw that you were going to start that 2004 season after sitting out the year before and working hard just to get noticed?
RG: It’s funny you asked that. I remember we were playing Utah St. and Buddy Wyatt called me in his office and told me I would start, and I just called my dad becuase he was an integral part in the whole process. I wasn’t sure if he really believed me at first and it didn’t sink in until I saw my name on the jumbotron and same for my dad.
TDA: Talk about that season specifically for you. You were seen as undersized at about 6-foot and 285. What was the difference going against SEC O-linemen compared to what you came from?
RG: The difference was the caliber of player. Those guys are NFL type players. I felt my height was somewhat of an advantage due to being able to get leverage. One of my quotes I use for my players I coach is, ‘Nobody ever works football, you play football.’ I live by that, I was having the best time of my life.
TDA: Who were some players that were influential to you during your time at Alabama?
RG: One of the first guys I met was Todd Bates, and he was the captain of that 2004 team. Keith Saunders, J.P. Adams, Wallace Gillberry, Justin Johnson, Dominic Lee, Chris Harris, Jeremy Clark. We still text each other ever so often too and catch up.
TDA: That 2005 team was really special in the eyes of Tide fans. Talk about that season, and that defense in particular.
RG: We knew we would be special the year before. That summer, all of the seniors we sat down and took ownership and said it was our last year, and all of the guys took ownership of our positions and we worked harder than ever that summer and we were a close knit group and more like a family. It showed on the football field. To be a successful football team, you have to be close, and have your brothers’ back. I would go to war for my brothers from the left to the right.
TDA: You have a very memorable play that year with that touchdown interception against Mississippi State. What was going through your mind when you caught that ball and had all of that open space
RG: After that game, someone from Mississippi State told me that somebody wanted to talk to me. Coach Johnson (who was the defensive coordinator at the time for them) came out and said, “You proved me wrong, and I’m proud of you.” As a kid, you always dream about catching a pick six and running into the endzone and honestly the night before I dreamed about making a big play and helping us win the game. When I caught it, it was like it was in slow-motion and it just felt good. That game really felt good though.
TDA: What do you think of Alabama’s success now and knowing you had a part in helping pave the way during your time their?
RG: I’m always a proud alum. Anytime the University of Alabama is successful I’m pumping my chest because I remember how it was 10 years ago. It was at a low place in 2003, and I remember how tough it was. To see what we did in 2005 and getting us back into the limelight. Anytime they win a championship I’m pounding my chest like I’m apart of it.
TDA: What was the most memorable game you played in at Alabama?
The 2005 Florida game. That propelled us. That whole week, Urban Meyer was talking so much noise about us not being used to the spread offense and that we’re used to playing the two-back set, and it just pumped us up. That was the loudest game I’ve ever played in. Tennessee was always a good one too. The Cotton Bowl was huge too, my last game, they elected Me, DeMeco Ryans, and Brodie Croyle as captains and everything came to a head and now it was over. The Florida game was defnetely the biggest though.
TDA: How crazy were the practices during Auburn week? How does it feel not beating your in-state rival while at bama?
RG: It hurts, I give them credit though, but it hurts knowing I never beat them. Anytime we played Auburn it was crazy. Practices were always intense. The fans were the ones who took it to the extreme. They would break into the hotel and pull the fire alarm all night long, call your room all night long. We were actually cool with the players but the fans were the crazy ones. There’s also a superstition going back for years with Alabama where the water we drink is only from Tuscaloosa and the buses were the only buses we would ride in.
TDA: What are you up to now?
RG: I’m coaching. Presently the defensive coordinator at Hewitt-Trussville and community relations coordinator for the school district. I handle all PR stuff for school district in Birmingham. I’m going on my second season. I work with a great group of guys. My AD is Bobby Johns who is an Alabmaa legend. It’s really an Auburn-friendly place, but they show me a lot of love. I love reaching out to the communtity and do motivational speaking. I spoke at a banquet on AJ Star to rasie money. I coached college football, but my heart was to coach in the high school level. It was a much more purer level.