When Nate Ruple – a 1992 Delta grad – left as head football coach of the Panthers in 2012 to spend more time with his wife and four young sons, there was a thought in the back of his mind that he might one day return.
As it turned out, after a six-year absence, Ruple will get his chance this fall as he replaces Jeff Wolford.
“I felt that if it (a head coaching opportunity) came up again, and the timing was right with my family, that it would definitely be something I would consider,” said Ruple. “When the job opened up this past season at Delta, I felt the timing was right. My family is older now. My oldest is gonna be a freshman this year and I have three other sons that are scattered throughout the program at the younger levels.”
However, he will not be returning empty-handed. Over the last six years, Ruple has gained valuable experience as an assistant coach, serving on coaching staffs at Toledo St. Francis, Toledo Central Catholic and Swanton.
Each team reached the playoffs while Ruple was on staff. In two seasons at Central Catholic, he was wide receivers coach for the Irish when they won a state title in 2014 and finished runner-up in 2015.
“Being prepared. Being very thorough about practices and gameplanning,” said Ruple on the keys to winning a state title. “And being able to trust your kids to go out and execute that gameplan. But also as well, having fun with the whole experience and enjoying every minute of it. Because those are certainly rare experiences. I’m very fortunate to have had those experiences at Central Catholic.”
Prior to taking the head job at Delta in 2009, Ruple coached the running backs and defensive backs at Central in 2007-08.
He worked under Chris Hedden – now a running backs coach at Bowling Green State University – when Hedden was leading St. Francis. Furthermore, Ruple has spent a total of nine seasons working with legendary coach Mike Vicars, including all eight seasons of Vicars’ first stint at Delta, 1999-2006.
Each of those experiences helped mold him into the coach he is today.
“One thing you learn when you get on Central’s staff, is that there’s an expectation for extraordinary preparedness. The time that you put in is valuable when scouting your opponents,” explained Ruple. “They were extremely thorough and detail oriented. I could really say that about all three coaches I’ve worked for. That’s been a common thread between all three. They had a system that they knew, and that worked for them.
“All three coaches had an extreme passion for the game of football. And a passion for making a difference in a positive way with those kids that they were coaching.”
Ruple is excited to take what he’s learned during his time away from Delta, and hopefully apply it back to the program, giving it a jolt in the right direction.
“I’ve had some good times as an assistant,” he said. “Through those times you pick up little tidbits here and there that can help you become a better coach. When it comes right down to it, I’m a much better coach now than I was 10 years ago. I am hoping to bring some of that experience and some of that wisdom that I’ve gained over the last few years back to Delta.”
Also, he is thrilled to receive a second chance at coaching his alma mater. “There’s not many second chances in life,” stated Ruple. “It’s extremely special. Being from Delta and being a Delta guy all my life, I’m excited about representing this community in a positive fashion. Putting together a product on the football field that this community can be proud of.”
Ruple knows how he wants to reconstruct the Delta program. By making sure his players have the right attitude and mindset.
“We are gonna base this program on character development,” he said. “We want to build these kids to be strong men in the future. We feel like that’s the base of any success in life. Whether it’s being a husband, whether it’s doing well in the classroom, or achieving on the football field. So, we are gonna start by really pounding the character through our kids. Trying to build that strong work ethic, and really the personality needed to be successful.”
The new coach is employed at the high school, teaching biology and physical science courses for mostly freshmen and sophomores. Therefore, he is already familiar with many of his players.
In addition, the incoming freshmen class he coached at the junior high level. Ruple was Delta’s seventh grade coach two years ago and he coached the eighth grade last season.
“When you look at it from that perspective, they already know me and my expectations. And the type of commitment that’s expected to be successful,” explained Ruple. “Having those guys at the middle school level, combined with teaching many of these kids in the classroom, has really made the transition much smoother than a typical transition would be.”
Ruple is hopeful that, as the season draws near, his squad will have fully bought into his ideas and values. He did not have much insight on what to expect on the field, but that should change once two-a-days begin in August.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010