Created:Friday, February 19, 2010 11:03 p.m.CDT

NIU's real life Rudy

Dan Ruettiger, nephew of "Rudy" Ruettiger, is the lone senior on the Northern Illinois wrestling team. (Rob Winner –

DeKALB – Stop Dan Ruettiger if you've heard this one before.

A senior college athlete tries to find his way onto the field. He doesn't stop working. He doesn't quit. And, just when all hope is lost, he's thrust into the arena and finds success.

If it sounds like some of the plot from the movie "Rudy," that's because it is. And Northern Illinois wrestler Dan Ruettiger has gone through some of the same things that were in the 1993 movie that depicted his uncle, Rudy Ruettiger.

The only thing is, Dan has tasted some serious success as a wrestler at NIU, finishing third in the Mid-American Conference in 2007. He didn't see the movie in theaters. Most of his family auditioned for the film and, except for his dad, didn't make it.

"The movie and all, hardly any of it's true. His brother never took his girlfriend or anything like that," Dan said. "Besides the fact that everybody calls me Rudy, it's not that big a deal for me. He's just my uncle and my family, my dad's side of the family, everybody is really laid back. No one really thinks about it."

So let's try this again.

Dan Ruettiger thought his career was finished.

He didn't think he would be wrestling at 2 p.m. Sunday against Buffalo on senior day. The lone senior on the Northern Illinois wrestling team thought he would be watching Steve Zimmerman wrestle at 149 pounds and that's it.

That was it, until Zimmerman suffered a neck injury that put him out for the season.

"For a while, Zimmerman was starting and I was out of it," Ruettiger said. "I thought, 'Oh, I'm done now. This sucks.' I wasn't really that motivated. I was practicing but it was my state of mind. Then I got myself going again and overcame that. I just started working harder and things started to happen for me."

Ruettiger stepped in and carries a 13-13 record into Sunday's match.

"When we asked him to be there," NIU wrestling coach Dave Grant said, "he was there. He was ready. It's beautiful to have a guy like that around."

Ruettiger said his arrival back in the starting lineup for the Huskies gives him another opportunity to accomplish goals he didn't think he could reach a few months ago. Grant has a big goal in mind.

"We want to get him to Omaha at the national tournament," he said.

Ruettiger would have to draw on the experience of his coaches should he get that far. He is the last person left from his class and has been for two seasons now, something Ruettiger doesn't think about but said has been a little strange to go through.

"I didn't want to quit," he said. "I don't want to have any regrets. After this, I'm not going to have a chance to do it again."

And if that sounds familiar, like something you've heard in a movie, well, that's because it is.

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