HYDE PARK — Sporting a famous surname, University of Chicago senior wrestler Joeie Ruettiger is making quite a name for himself this season.
"Joeie is probably a little more talented in wrestling than Rudy was on the football field," said U. of C. wrestling coach Leo Kocher.
Joeie Ruettiger was quick to disagree.
"He played Division I football, and he was still a great athlete to play on a team like Notre Dame," the 21-year-old economics major said of his uncle.
When asked, jokingly, to settle the argument, Rudy himself took the high road.
"It's not about who's better than who. It's about the effort you're putting out," Rudy Ruettiger said from Las Vegas during a phone interview.
Now a motivational speaker, Rudy Ruettiger's story of perseverance — he played in only one game at Notre Dame — is considered one of the best sports movies ever made.
Like his uncle, Joeie Ruettiger is a huge Fighting Irish football fan. Josh Hotta, Joeie Ruettiger's roommate and wrestling practice partner, said Ruettiger watches every Notre Dame game and has a plethora of Irish apparel.
"Probably the biggest Notre Dame fan I've ever met," Hotta said. "He definitely loves the family's association with the school."
And, of course, Joeie Ruettiger owns a DVD copy of "Rudy," which he says he's watched "more than 100 times."
"He's probably seen it more than that. He loves the movie," said Joeie's father, Bernie Ruettiger, who coached him at Minooka High School near Joliet. "That movie is very inspirational. It's about everybody who has dreams, and Joeie's a dreamer and a doer."
Joeie Ruettiger set out to have a dream senior season, and so far he's living up to his expectations. With a 9-2 record, he was named the school's athlete of the week in early December.
Hotta, also a 149-pounder on the Maroons, said Ruettiger's extra confidence this year has produced success.
"He used to half-attempt takedowns, and I'd be able to stop him. But he doesn't back down from me anymore," Hotta said.
Joeie Ruettiger, who has the same unusual first-name spelling as his maternal grandfather, said he's a smarter wrestler now thanks to hours of practice and meets.
But he also gives credit to his cousin's husband, Simon Jordan, who gave him a 2½-month summer job laying concrete.
Jordan said Joeie Ruettiger was the "low man on the totem pole" and thus he was dealt the hardest jobs. Ruettiger dug large holes with shovels and used a wheelbarrow to move up to 500 pounds of concrete at a time.
"Many of the kids we hire, they don't last two or three days," Jordan said. "He never gave up. Not even close. He was by far the hardest worker that we had."
Rudy Ruettiger hasn't been able to watch his hard-working nephew's matches this season, but he's heard the positive results.
"It's an honor that he is No. 9," he said. "His success doesn't surprise me."