Once he got tired, Todd Rucci would push himself to the point of physical exhaustion during workouts.
Most athletes, Rucci said, will push themselves until their mind tells them to stop. They get tired and give in. Rucci visualized that fatigue as a wall, and when he reached it, he kept working until he threw up or passed out.
That’s when he knew it was time to stop.
Rucci explained this approach during his speech at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Central Pennsylvania Chapter scholar-athletes awards banquet Sunday at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.
“If you know how to work harder than the guy you’re competing against, whether it’s a job interview, that’s where you separate yourself from others,” said Rucci, a former Penn State and NFL standout. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit in a lot of different types of locker rooms, from board rooms to corporate roundtables to the high school locker room where I still coach to our dinner table.
“A lot of those lessons that I’ve learned over the years through football are what carries me and gives me the guidance.”
Rucci, who played offensive and defensive line at Penn State from 1989-92, served as the featured speaker at the event. The organization aims to celebrate football’s role in instilling leadership, sportsmanship and academic excellence in players from a young age.
The chapter recognized 58 athletes Sunday, including Bald Eagle Area’s Michael Kachik, Bellefonte’s Nick Jabco, Penns Valley’s Ben Alexander, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Jake Anderson, St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Charles Ross and State College’s Stan Martin. Penn State’s Adam Breneman was among the college players honored.
Rucci’s speech revolved around hard work, calling it a choice.
Penn State coach James Franklin emphasized the same message when he addressed those in attendance.
Franklin talked about his program’s four core values — have a positive attitude, have a great work ethic, compete in everything you do and sacrifice.
He said sacrifice is “probably the most important core value.”
“Everybody says they want to be successful in life or sports or whatever it may be, but very few people are willing to make the choices to be successful,” Franklin said. “Being successful is about sacrificing. And it’s not any grand thing. It’s not anything that’s going to be remarkable. It’s about waking up every single morning and making the right choices day after day after day.
“Are you willing to sacrifice things that the common man will not sacrifice to be special?”
Rucci said it’s important to push yourself beyond your limits, whether that’s on the field, in the classroom or in your profession.
Rucci quickly realized he could compete in the NFL.
As a rookie with the New England Patriots, he started out at left tackle during training camp.
Coach Bill Parcells then pulled him aside with some good news and some bad news.
Rucci asked for the good news and learned he’d be starting at right guard that week. Then he asked for the bad news.
“He goes, ‘Well, you’re playing against a guy named Reggie White,’ ” said Rucci, who played his entire pro career for New England. “For some of you my age and to put it in perspective for some of you younger athletes, I had a poster of Reggie White in my bedroom growing up on the Philadelphia Eagles. So when you’re faced with that kind of challenge, you are baptized pretty quick.”
Rucci also knew he couldn’t play football forever.
He said he thought about his post-playing career plans every day. He knew he could be replaced at any time and eventually, his body wouldn’t be able to handle the demands of the game anymore.
Rucci was the executive director of the Pennsylvania Lottery and now works as a government relations officer at PAP Technologies in addition to being on the Warwick school board.
He closed his speech with some advice for the athletes.
“Be great,” Rucci said. “And I mean that in everything. Be great. Be a great brother, be a great son, be a great football player, be a great community representative, just be great at it. It’s really worth doing.”