College running back Vinny Rugai

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A standout running back at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Vinny Rugai eschews social media while he works to perfect his football skills.

Vinny Rugai is not the kind of football player who wants to attract attention and gain social media followers. Instead, the 18-year-old believes in working hard and plugging away at his goals.

That attitude has resulted in Rugai first forging a path as a standout high school athlete and now as a freshman at Fordham University in New York, where he was a preferred walk-on.

“I am pretty driven, but I am also one of those people who kind of works in silence,” Rugai says. “You see it a lot on social media these days: people posting what they are doing and what their workouts are. I don’t really do that. That’s not my thing, to show off. I just kind of keep my head down.”

Growing up in Chicago, Rugai started playing football as a kindergartner, graduating from flag football to helmet and pads in the third grade. Over the years, he played multiple positions — quarterback, linebacker, defensive end, tight end, left guard — until he found his groove as a running back.

“I think it has all of my abilities in one,” he explains. “I am able to take the ball and run right at somebody, [with] not a care in the world. That’s my personality, too. Go at anything with no fear. That’s kind of what the position is all about.”

At 6 feet and 195 pounds, Rugai was a four-year varsity starter at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. He captained the team his junior and senior years, and holds two school records: career rushing yards, at 3,027, and career touchdowns, with 39. He is also second in all-time tackles, with 204.

Rugai says he picked Fordham, where he wants to major in finance, because it combines the energy of a big city and the quiet of a small campus. Plus, New York has a Little Italy, just like Chicago, he points out. His paternal grandfather emigrated to the United States from Collodi, in Tuscany, which Rugai visited as a fifth grader.

Rugai comes from a football family. His father, Robert, was a quarterback at Northern Illinois University, and his older brother, Leo, was a quarterback at St. Ignatius. In fact, when the brothers were little, Vinny played on Leo’s team for the sake of convenience. “I was playing with older, bigger kids, which I think helped me with that ‘no fear’ factor,” he says.

Rugai points to two coaches who have been influential in his development as a player.

One is Billy Stritzel, who trained the Rugai brothers and other St. Ignatius players when gyms were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “He showed me how to be a better player,” Rugai says.

The other is Rich Hurley, who coached him for three years in high school. “He’s probably one of the smartest football minds I have met,” he says. “Now, he’s always keeping up with me, asking me how things are going.”

The best moment of Rugai’s football career came during his junior year, when St. Ignatius beat Mt. Carmel High School, then ranked No. 2 in the state, by a resounding 27-0 score. “Our school historically had not been good, and my grade kind of turned it around,” he explains. The worst moment came during his senior year, when the team lost in the state championship semifinals.

There is no sport like football, Rugai says.

“Sports, in general, brings people together, but football, especially for my family, has a deeper meaning. I can remember so many times watching football together with my dad, uncles and grandpa,” he said. “It means a lot to me … playing the game, watching the game, talking about the game.”

The above appears in the September 2023 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.


About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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