Rare Path Still Leads Ringhof to Success

INSIDE USD — Striving for success is often achieved through hard work and effort. Optimal thinking means staying positive, to know that the pursuit is rarely accomplished without challenges.And then there’s Julian Ringhof and what he’ll accomplish on Friday, Nov. 7, just prior to the University of San Diego men’s soccer regular-season home finale against Santa Clara. The veteran defender and team captain will be celebrated during USD team’s annual senior night ceremony at Torero Stadium for a second straight year.

Ringhof is completing a rare sixth year of athletic eligibility — in four seasons played — and perhaps it’s a sign that a person of his caliber is worth celebrating a bit longer in a world so often going by in the blink of an eye.

“He’s a stellar example of what we want all of our student-athletes at the University of San Diego to be,” says USD Soccer Coach Seamus McFadden. “Julian is a consummate student-athlete. He’s been great in the classroom, getting all A’s in mechanical engineering, and it carries over to his work ethic on the field. He has all the intangibles you look for in a player. He’s gifted, provides us with great leadership and gives us stability at the back. He’s a beast. He’s a shining star.”

The 25-year-old Ringhof, a native of Sexau, Germany, is affectionately known to his teammates as “Grandpa.” But just this week, “Grandpa” was named the West Coast Conference men’s soccer player of the week as a result of two USD shutout road wins at Portland and Gonzaga.

His play, along with the effort by his Torero teammates is beginning to draw reminders to the 2012 team — Ringhof’s first season — that got its act together midway during the season to win the WCC title and reach the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.

USD is 8-4-4 overall and 4-0-0 in WCC play heading into Friday’s game. The Toreros play at University of San Francisco Sunday and at Loyola Marymount on Nov. 15. Winning conference gives USD an automatic tournament bid, but McFadden, the only head coach USD has had since soccer’s 1980 inception, knows anything can happen. He’s focused on each game and what his team can control.

Ringhof is a major asset to achieving the team’s goals.

“His strength is that he’s so present, he’s got a mature way of looking at things,” senior defender Thomas Fiskerstrand says. “We’ve played a lot of games together and have had some good moments on and off the field. We have a couple of classes together. I like being around him because I always get mature insight about life.”

Accepting, Overcoming the Challenge

Ringhof’s presence could have just as easily been a memory this season, per NCAA rules. His soccer career actually started at California State University, Los Angeles.

He played there his freshman year, but an ankle injury requiring surgery earned him a medical redshirt as a sophomore. He returned to Germany, taking a fall semester’s worth of classes at a university that did not have an athletics program, but Ringhof’s eligibility clock kept ticking. The NCAA counted it as a second redshirt year. When he enrolled at USD in 2012, he did so as a redshirt junior. The team had its great run that season, but in 2013, in what was thought to be Ringhof’s curtain call, he missed time due to injuries and the team struggled as a whole.

“I thought I was done; mentally, it was kind of tough to think about coming back,” says Ringhof, who knew USD was examining his case. ” I went in with the mindset that it would be my last year. The odds weren’t very good for me to get an extension and last year was a bad season for us. I was extremely frustrated, thinking that was it. For the first time, too, I think I was over soccer. I needed a few months off. I had classes in the spring that interfered with practice times. I didn’t practice much at all in the spring because I didn’t know if I could play another year.”

Erin Adkins, who works on NCAA compliance matters for USD’s athletics department, looked into Ringhof’s situation. It was determined that Ringhof’s semester in Germany, at a university without college sports, shouldn’t count against him. The Toreros sought an extension of the fifth year.

“Since classes (in Germany) did not start until October, technically my year would have ended on Oct. 1 (2014) which is halfway through the soccer season, so I could have played for half a season,” Ringhof says. “Instead, it was about asking for an extension of the fifth year. That was key.”

Until the matter was resolved, McFadden and his staff did consider other plans.

“We were 90 percent sure the window had closed on him. We had to move on and recruit other players,” McFadden said. “When we found out he was eligible it was a great feeling knowing he’d be back. It was like winning the lottery.”

Ringhof’s return was a bit slow. The time in limbo allowed his body to heal, but he was limited in practices and games. He said the World Cup in Brazil last summer did serve as motivation.

Given Ringhof’s upbringing — he’s played soccer since he was 3 living in a country fervent for it — he got back in a groove on the field.

Engineered for Academic Success

Off the field, Ringhof’s other significant presence at USD is exhibited through his academic prowess. He carries a 3.95 GPA as a mechanical engineering major. He’s a regular on multiple all-academic lists for student-athletes. He completed his senior design team project last year, a Bike-Assist device, which consists of a removable, battery-powered, motorized device that assists bicycle propulsion with a 400-watt brushless motor and automatic transmission.

“It was taking a regular bicycle and making it into an electrical bike,” Ringhof explains. “You attach it to the seat post and it has a little friction roller that’s driven by an electric motor run by a battery. It sits on the rear tire and drives the rear tire. You also have a throttle on your handle bars, allowing you to adjust how fast you want to go.”

That project, along with other hands-on experiences in his mechanical engineering courses and just generally being curious have been instrumental to his academic success.

“I’ve always been a curious person, I always want to know how things work. When I see something, I always want to find out more about it. It sounds kind of nerdy, but I enjoy having a problem and trying to find a solution. That’s what you do as an engineer,” he says. “I’ve learned so many things in my classes that you can apply to what happens around you.”

The senior project brought out his best. “It’s a huge opportunity that every engineering student at USD gets to do. You get to start from scratch, design your own product, build it and do everything yourself. It’s great because that’s when you learn the most. Sure, you learn about theory in class and it’s interesting, but to be able to apply it, to build something yourself, see it work or fail is exciting stuff.”

His passion for engineering and soccer are similar.

“I think the best part of my game is reading the game, thinking about and understanding what’s next, where the next pass is going, where the forward is running. I’m a defender and I play without the ball so I have to see what someone else does with the ball to be successful.”

Ready for his Future

Put his soccer and engineering talent together and the result is smart and reliable performer. The soccer team has seen it for three seasons. Engineering professors such as Frank Jacobitz and Rick Olson have witnessed it.

“He’s a really focused and disciplined guy,” says Olson. “He learns stuff very quickly and makes it look effortless.”

Ringhof graduates in December. In a not-surprised development, he’s landed a post-graduation job with San Diego’s Solar Turbines as a field service representative. He secured it when he interviewed during Torero Networking Night, a special career fair through USD Athletics for student-athletes.

“Julian presents himself very well,” Olson said. “The fact that they hired him on the spot speaks to his professionalism and all the work he’s done. He’s a really good candidate. He’s the whole package.”

Ringhof said the job is a great fit. “It’s perfect for what I want to do. There will be some training and I’ll learn a lot of new things, which is always exciting. I’ll be flying out to their customers, making sure everything is working as it should. It’s going to be exactly what I enjoy about engineering: If there’s a problem, I want to solve it.”

— Ryan T. Blystone