The Man Behind Hartman’s Debut

Warren Ruggiero is a guy who, regretfully, I never got to know that well while still gainfully employed as the Deacons’ beat reporter during Ruggiero’s first three seasons as Wake’s offensive coordinator.

I tried, because I found him to be an intriguing character so unimposing in stature and wholly unassuming in bearing as to to appear to have wandered on to the practice field out of idle curiosity instead of professional responsibility. Those who didn’t know better might think him a Graduate Assistant or one of the multitudes of underlings and/or aides all major-college football programs have running all around these days.

Think Radar O’Reilly of the M*A*S*H television series. To my twisted mind, that was Warren Ruggiero.

His countenance was one of contemplation so deep as to be mistaken for bewilderment. I occasionally saw him josh or cut-up with a player or another coach, but not often. He struck me as a seriously serious kind of individual.

And, at least in our dealings, he was terribly reticent. He was never discourteous or antagonistic. He just didn’t seem to want to give up much of himself, and even less of what the Deacons had in store offensively for the upcoming opponent.

I never detected one self-promoting bone in his body. If anything, I took him as a bit shy.

Dave Clawson always spoke of him in glowing terms, even during those first two seasons when Ruggiero was catching all manner of flak for coordinating an offense that had to rank among the worst in all of college football. Give him time and talent, Clawson would maintain, and everyone would see full well why he was hired as Wake’s offensive coordinator in the first place.

Well we all saw that last season, the fourth for Clawson and Ruggiero, when the Deacons set more records than most would know were even recorded. In perhaps no other realm than college football can one graduate so quickly from bonehead to brainiac.

And let the record show that Ruggiero’s acumen and expertise were on full display again last night in Wake’s season-opening 23-17 overtime victory at Tulane. And here I’m not talking so much about the offensive production, the three touchdowns and a field goal or even the 548 total yards.

The Wake world is today raving, and rightfully so, about the dazzling debut of freshman Sam Hartman at quarterback — he of the 31 completions on 51 attempts for 378 yards – the 10th most yards ever accounted for by a Deacons’ quarterback. Clawson and Ruggiero were expressing full confidence in Hartman when he out-battled Jamie Newman for the opening day start, and now we all can see why.

But let’s not forget that a year ago, Sam Hartman was starting his senior season of high school.

It was Warren Ruggiero, along with Clawson, who identified Hartman early enough on the recruitment trail to secure a commitment after Hartman’s sophomore season at Davidson Day. And it was Ruggiero who forged enough of a bond with Hartman as to shoo away all the johnny-come-latelies who began to flock around during Hartman’s round-about journey from Davidson Day to Oceanside Collegiate in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

And when Hartman enrolled last January, it was Ruggiero who had the charge of coaching him up to where, just eight months later, he could walk out on a Division-I field and do what he did at Tulane. Wake needed a quarterback with the graduation of John Wolford, and Ruggiero and Hartman needed only one game to prove that the Deacons have one.

Hartman is a true talent, and may even turn to be a preeminent one. But to do what he did last night, he needed all the help he could get.

And that’s were the acumen and expertise of Warren Ruggiero came in handy.

From Clawson’s perspective, it might have been the perfect result. The Deacons got the victory, and Clawson and Ruggiero got a teaching moment that Hartman won’t soon forget.

Yeah, Hartman’s knee might well have been down when he shoveled that harebrained pass into the belly of a Tulane defender for a play that could have easily cost Wake the game.

But that’s not the kind of play, as Clawson pointedly pointed out afterward, that a quarterback at Wake (or anywhere for that matter) can be excused for making.

“It was unnecessary and not a smart play,’’ Clawson said. “It was really a foolish, foolish play. We have to coach that out of him. You can’t do that.’’

Fortunately for Clawson he has, in Warren Ruggiero, just the coach to help him do it.

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