University of North Carolina Athletics

By Lee Pace

Kaimon Rucker had 30 scholarship offers from Group of Five colleges in spring 2019, his junior year of high school. The edge rusher from Hartwell, Georgia, demanded an offer from one of the elite Power Five conferences. At the top of his wish list was certainly one from Georgia, just 40 miles to the southwest, or from Clemson, just over 50 miles to the northeast.

But at 6-foot-3 and 1-inch tall, Rucker didn't fit the DE/OLB mold that places most prospects in the 6-4 to 6-6 range. Think of Tar Heel greats like Greg Ellis at 6-5, Julius Peppers at 6-7 or Robert Quinn at 6-4.

“Society loves size and height, and Kaimon didn’t fit the mold,” says his father, Kendall Rucker. “But that didn’t worry him. He did research. He said, 'Where do the big dogs go? I will go there and beat them.'”

Kaimon noticed that a number of four- and five-star offensive linemen would be attending the Nike Football Skills Camp in Charlotte in May 2019, so he signed up, played well and caught the attention of coaches dressed in Carolina blue. Rucker was invited to the Carolina football camp in June.

“He immediately stood out in the pass rush and pass pro drills,” Mack Brown says. “He whipped everyone. It cost people scholarships everywhere. Nobody could block him. I walked over and asked our coaches, 'Who is it?' The?' They said, 'Well, he's a little too small.' I said, 'I don't care.' The guy beats everyone. I went over and met his parents and they were wonderful. I found out he was a National Honor Society student.

“I told our guys: ‘Offer him. Offer it.' Today.”

That was five years ago. Rucker took advantage of the opportunity afforded him by Brown and the Tar Heels (Louisville was his only other offer from an ACC or SEC team) and has had an exemplary career, with his crowning achievement awarded this fall when he becomes a Extra Year Plays NCAA Eligibility Decisions During Covid.

In four seasons, he played in 50 games (28 as a starter), recorded 84 solo tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and four forced fumbles. He was second-team All-ACC in 2023.

“And here he is, going to play in the NFL one day,” Brown said. “He's getting better and better. He's smart, tough and competitive. He's studying football and technique. He loves the fact that Ted Monachino is coaching him now because he wants to be a professional player and Ted has been playing in the NFL for 15 years.”

Rucker made his first start in his second game as a freshman in 2020, the Tar Heels' road game at Boston College. Kendall and his wife, Kristie, were unable to make the trip due to ticket and travel restrictions during this strange, pandemic-ravaged season, but Kendall's ears perked up when Kaimon made a tackle and one of the broadcast announcers called Tim Cross, the Tar Heel's defensive line coach. quoted He said: “Rucker is a bowling ball made of butcher knives.”

“It’s like a gong goes off in my head,” says Kendall.

And so, “The Butcher” was born. Kendall knew that some form of name, image and likeness policy was in the works that would allow college athletes to monetize their college sports experiences (it was actually approved by the NCAA, effective July 1, 2021). The Rucker family was ready with a “Ruck The Butcher” website and merchandise emblazoned with his silhouette, signature and No. 25 jersey.

“The name suits him perfectly,” says Kendall. “He has developed a good reputation and a style of play without having the size that everyone talks about. Caimon's faith is very important to him, and as a child his favorite Bible story was David and Goliath. Kaimon is like David – he is the chosen one. He has overcome challenges and overcome giants.

“Flying under the radar was frustrating at first,” admits Kaimon. “Maybe I didn't pass the eye test, but why couldn't people look at all these other tangible things? But you have to work with what the Lord gives you. I couldn't control that I couldn't be 6 years old. 4 or 6-5. I was no longer annoyed by people saying I was too small for my position.

“That’s definitely a big part of my story. I wanted to prove what I was actually capable of.”

Rucker changed his jersey number from 25 to 7 for his senior year. As a young high school player on offense, he chose number 75 because his father had worn that number during his own playing days. As an edge rusher, he can't be 75, but the single-digit 7 is borrowed from that.

“I've loved the number 7 all my life and this is also a way to dedicate my game and my season to my father,” he says. “Without him, I wouldn't be playing this sport.”

Rucker is excited and refreshed by the arrival of first-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and is eagerly awaiting his chance to showcase his talents in pass rushing situations.

“I think Coach Collins is giving us the push we need,” Rucker said. “He brings a lot of energy and energy. He caught our attention from day one. We will be aggressive. Putting pressure on the quarterback is a big part of it. I'm talking about my position in terms of speed and space.' I’m on my own little island and I like to have fun with it.”

It has been a busy five months since the end of the 2023 season. Rucker has a degree in psychology and will soon begin a master's degree. He had undergone surgery to repair his right middle finger after it was injured in the Clemson game last season. And he and run back Omarion Hampton Both decided to return to Carolina after being courted by other schools with extensive NIL packages.

The Heels4Life NIL collective offered a competitive deal, and Rucker recently used some of his money to purchase backpacks and various grooming and toiletries for fifth-graders at his home school, Hartwell Elementary School.

“At this age, puberty begins and the body changes a lot,” says Rucker. “I wanted to talk about hygiene and puberty, how to use deodorant, lotion, cologne and hygiene products. I enjoyed talking to the children and giving them advice. Hopefully they learned something that will help them at an important stage in their growth.”

Rucker national anthem at the Final Four

Soccer players tend to toil in a cloak of anonymity as fans watch from a hundred yards away and their bodies are covered with helmets, face masks and shoulder pads. But Rucker's features came through alongside his colleagues from Kansas, Villanova and Duke when they were invited to sing the national anthem at the 2022 Final Four in New Orleans.

Rucker grew up in church and began singing in the choir as a boy. In addition to intelligence and athletic ability, he also had a high-quality singing voice. Just moments before the Tar Heels' epic victory over Duke in the semifinals, Rucker stood at center court in his navy blue Carolina letter jacket and a Ruck The Butcher T-shirt underneath and sang an a cappella rendition The Star Spangled Banner.

“The first time I sang in public was at a talent show in sixth grade,” he says. “I was a nervous wreck. I felt the same way at the Final Four. That was a stressful moment. It was definitely more stressful than any game I've ever played. But it was a fun moment, a great moment, an unforgettable moment.”

A week later, he sang the anthem solo before the Tar Heels' spring football game, standing alone in the middle of Kenan Stadium and hitting the crescendo “The red glow of the rockets, the bombs exploding in the air” without a bang. There was a little more echo and reverberation through the stadium sound system than Rucker expected, but he pulled deep from the membrane and hit all the notes perfectly.

Just another triumph for Ruck The Butcher at Kenan Stadium.

Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace (Carolina '79) has been writing about Tar Heel football under the banner Extra Points since 1990 and has been reporting from the sidelines on radio shows since 2004. Write to him at and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

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