TOWNSEND -- He is a wise, ever-hopeful high school football coach, one who knows how it feels to ride a 25-game winning streak and to tumble through a 22-game losing streak.
He has coached six Super Bowl champions; three of those were undefeated champions.
He also knows the thrill of seeing his team rise up on Thanksgiving morning to stave off a winless season with a Hail Mary.
He has celebrated big upset victories.
And felt a few stinging paybacks in following years.
Arthur "Sandy" Ruggles has experienced great highs and tenacious lows as a head coach. He seemingly has coached here, there and everywhere: Two seasons as head coach at Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H.
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He is 66 and moves a little slower since left-knee replacement surgery in June. But when standing on a practice field surrounded by kids eager for another football season to begin, Ruggles is as vigorous as was that ambitious 28-year-old back at Trinity High in 1976.
Only now he carries with him a lifetime of coaching perspective.
"I remember being an immature 28-year-old coach who lost to Portsmouth and didn't go home," said Ruggles, at the time married to his first wife, Mimi. "I stayed at the school and watched film.
Now the coach realizes that the wins (155 as a high school coach) and losses (157) are secondary to "seeing the finished product of kids coming back, and seeing what they've become and what they've done."
"As I got older," said Ruggles, "I realized coaches make a difference in some people's lives. It's not all about you."
One of North Middlesex's captains this year, senior quarterback John Boutwell, is the son of the John Boutwell who was a captain on Ruggles' first North Middlesex team in 1981.
"My dad still calls him 'Coach,' " said Boutwell. "There is no other man like him. He cares more about other people than himself."
Win or lose, "it's a great honor to be called "Coach,' " said Ruggles.
His lifeblood is that renewed hope each new football season brings. Ruggles is heading into his 31st season as a high school head coach, making him the dean among active local coaches. (Acton-Boxboro's Bill Maver is heading into his 30th season.)
He does not bore these Patriots with stories of how things used to be in Townsend. The kids can see the championship banners hanging on the school's gymnasium wall. From 1989-95, Ruggles' North Middlesex teams went 73-6 and won six Central Mass. Super Bowl titles. It rates among the greatest runs ever by a local high school coach; a coach whom North Middlesex hired in 1981 as he came off an 0-9-1 season at Murdock.
Ruggles credits that memorable run to great players and great assistant coaches.
"When you got talent, your biggest thing is to stay out of the way, let the horses run," said Ruggles. "When you're struggling, you do a better coaching job, working hard to keep football fun."
Ruggles is coaching harder than ever; North Middlesex is 10-56 during his second stint at the school. Last season North Middlesex finished 2-9, though the Patriots qualified for the MIAA's new expanded playoff, losing 55-26 to St. John's Shrewsbury in the first round. The Patriots open their new season Sept. 11 at home against Doherty, the reigning Division 4 state champion.
Long gone is that punishing wishbone offense seen during the Super Bowl run. Ruggles adopted that option attack to fit his blue-collar teams after he heard Tony DeMeo speak at a coaching clinic at Temple University in the spring of 1988. North Middlesex's offense has become more modern.
But Ruggles is trying to bring back the old enthusiasm. His son Scot, 36, a former North Middlesex wishbone quarterback, is now head coach at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Cal. He had films from North Middlesex's glory days edited into an eight-minute lesson on enthusiasm to show his team.
Dad stole the idea.
"He wants to get some enthusiasm in the locker room," said North Middlesex co-captain Tyler Zech, a senior running back and linebacker. "He wants us to see how they were when they scored a touchdown. Everybody running to the guy who scored. A team mentality."
Whether it was the winning back then that caused that enthusiasm, or the enthusiasm that caused that winning, these Patriots are eager to find out.
How long will Ruggles coach? Well, the coach he considers his mentor, Bill Tighe, stepped down in 2010 at age 86 after 54 years as a high school head coach, the final 36 at Lexington. Tighe gave Ruggles, then a student-teacher from Northeastern University, his coaching start on his staff at Malden High.
Kids these days will still run through walls for a coach, says Ruggles, only nowadays they first do ask why. Ruggles never asked why while growing up in Stoneham as the adopted son of Harold and Mary Lois Ruggles. He played at Stoneham High for Bob Margarita, whose son John twice preceded Ruggles as North Middlesex's head coach.
John Margarita also was on Ruggles' staff during the Super Bowl run. Another Stoneham guy, John Jamieson, was also on that staff. Jamieson was also an assistant during Ruggles' 12 years as North Middlesex's hockey coach that produced a Division 3 state championship in 1995.
Besides his son Scot, Ruggles has a daughter, Mary, 35. Ruggles has been married to his second wife, Gail, for 20 years and has a stepdaughter, Lauren, 36, and stepson, Adam DeMonaco, 41, who was a defensive back and split end within North Middlesex's championship years.
The coach says he wants his ashes spread across North Middlesex's John E. Young Memorial Field when he dies.
"I spent the best 15 years of my life there," said Ruggles. "Now I'm back, so it's been 21 years."
And each new football season represents renewed life for a coach.
"The past means nothing," said Ruggles. "Everything is ahead of you."
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