After a brief career in the NFL, he's setting powerlifting records

From a front-row view of ‘Deflategate’ to powerlifting records, local business owner keeps his competitive fires burning

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 11/20/20

As anyone who has chased a dream will tell you, whether you reach your goal or not, adjusting to what comes after can be a challenge. For former collegiate and, briefly, pro football player Rob …

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After a brief career in the NFL, he's setting powerlifting records

From a front-row view of ‘Deflategate’ to powerlifting records, local business owner keeps his competitive fires burning

Posted

As anyone who has chased a dream will tell you, whether you reach your goal or not, adjusting to what comes after can be a challenge. For former collegiate and, briefly, pro football player Rob Ruggiero, competitive powerlifting has bridged that gap — and from the beginning, he was happily surprised to find himself at the top of the standings.

Mr. Ruggiero played football since grade school, and with a brother five years older who also played, he had a perfect role model.

“I wanted to be just like him,” Mr. Ruggiero said. “When I was in high school, my brother was in college at Bentley, and he and his teammates worked out at a gym near my family’s home in Acton, so I would go there and work out with them. They were all so focused and dedicated, and I just really loved weight training, and doing what they were doing.”

His first love was football, however, and as a standout player in both high school and later at Springfield College and Bridgewater State University, the game came first, while the weight training was a means to that end.

He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts after college, but his professional career was shorter than he might have liked. He was signed and released three times.

“I was good, I guess … but not good enough,” he said. “I went from defensive end to linebacker, and the knowledge you need at that level, I just didn’t have.

“But I came from a Division III school, from Massachusetts, so I never expected to play in the NFL at all. It was a great experience, but a roller coaster. You go out to Indianapolis and put on a Colts uniform and they release you a week later and you’re home … People asked why I was home. Well, I didn’t want to be.”

One of his last games as a pro was with the Colts organization, on the sidelines as a member of the practice squad, during the game that sparked the infamous “Deflategate” controversy. Soon after, he was released for the final time. He went down to Jacksonville to play on an Arena football team, but found it to be punishing work for very little money.

From football to powerlifting

“After football I kept training like I was still playing — and a good friend told he he was entering me in a contest. I was really hesitant, but I let him talk me into it. It was a New England regional contest, Intro to Strongman, and you pushed cars and moved boulders, that sort of thing. I ended up getting first place, qualifying for Nationals.”

Mr. Ruggiero went to Nationals, and did well. “I surprised myself,” he said. “It made me really excited for the sport. He went out again in the fall of 2019, and again qualified for Nationals, which were scheduled (and then cancelled) for June, 2020.

He decided to try powerlifting, after looking up some results and realizing that the competition’s weights  were right in his wheelhouse. Revolutionary Powerlifting Syndicate, the organizing body, was ready to hold COVID-safe events this fall. “I was just happy to do something,” he said.

His fiancé, Julie Ferreira of Somerset, whom he met at Bridgewater State, decided to join him at the Oct. 10-11 event. They both won their respective weight classes.

Ms. Ferreira squatted 215 pounds, benched 125 pounds, and deadlifted 270 pounds; while Mr. Ruggiero squatted 605 pounds, benched 465 pounds, and deadlifted 670 pounds. Mr. Ruggiero broke three of four New England records, for squat, bench, and overall total (which combines the other two weights with the deadlift). That total record also earned him the #2 spot nationally in his class.

“I was so happy and proud,” Mr. Ruggiero said. “This has really helped me transition to a normal life after football. I made it to the biggest stage, but then I was like, what do I do? One day football’s over and you’re like, wait a second — now what?”

Local business owner

One thing that’s keeping him plenty busy, in addition to his work as an assistant coach for Worcester State, is running his Gooding Avenue gym, Summit Performance. He and his partner, Adam Toman of Barrington, a fellow Bridgewater State football alumnus, opened in this location on Jan. 1. They got a couple of good months under their belt before COVID hit. “We actually got super lucky,” said Mr. Ruggiero. “We had wanted a bigger space, but I don’t think we’d have been able to hang on to it. We did lose some clients, but we are making it work with small group sizes and one-on-one training.”

While keeping his business afloat and looking forward to a June 2022 wedding, Mr. Ruggiero is looking forward to his next competition. Despite appearances — and the fact that he can lift more than a quarter-ton with a moment’s notice — there’s a lot of preparation involved.

“I’m not sure when my next competition will be,” he said. “I want to compete as soon as possible, but I’m not going to sign up for a meet that’s just a week away.”

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