Going viral: BG grad Ruggery, now with Red Flash, becomes dancing TikTok star
What does it take to become an internet sensation these days? For 19-year-old Luke Ruggery, the recipe for success has included these ingredients:
–Sweet dance moves set to upbeat, trendy music.
–Going shirtless, providing an opportunity to show off some seriously ripped 6-pack abs.
–A boatload of charisma and fun choreography
–Plus, getting your brothers and friends involved in the show, and sometimes even mom and dad
Boom. You’re a big hit.
“It’s been pretty crazy, to be honest,” Ruggery, speaking with equal amount excitement and surprise, said of his growing internet fame.
Around these parts, Luke Ruggery is known as an excellent basketball player. He starred at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School and led the Marauders to the state championship game two years ago, earning himself a Division I scholarship to Saint Francis.
To the rest of the world, though, Ruggery has become known for something else: He’s TikTok Boy or Mr. TikTok, as he put it, a budding star on the social media platform with an astounding 711,500 followers — a number that keeps growing and growing.
All of those people tune in to watch Ruggery and his clan do silly and sometimes provocative dances.
But there’s nothing silly about any of it, not when some of his videos have gone viral to the point of garnering millions of views.
One 10-second video of him and his three brothers dancing in the kitchen while mom and dad are standing there has been viewed 11.2 million times.
Another 14-second video of Ruggery, his brother and two friends dancing near a beach to a Taylor Swift song has been viewed 8.1 million times.
“It’s been interesting,” Ruggery said with a laugh of the entertainment niche he’s carved out for himself. “I never thought it would be like 700,000 followers.
“People like seeing four brothers that look alike dancing, I guess,” he added. “We think of it as a fun way to entertain people.”
It started during the quarantine
Ruggery started on TikTok 13 months ago, and his brother, Kyle, who’s a year younger than him, had already been on the platform. TikTok allows users to upload short videos of themselves doing just about anything, and if people like what they’re seeing, they can follow the content creators.
“Me and a few of my Saint Francis teammates started messing around making videos,” Ruggery said.
One of them went viral, bringing in about 20,000 followers.
Then the quarantine came earlier this year because of the coronavirus lockdown. Stuck at home, Ruggery had an idea that turned out to be golden.
He said to this brothers, “You guys want to make a video? We’ve got nothing else to do.”
So they made one video, then another, then a whole bunch more — many dancing and some just doing some other goofy stuff around their house.
“We just played basketball, made videos and did TikTok,” Ruggery said.
Kyle Ruggery also was a standout at Bishop Guilfoyle, and he’s now a member of the Juniata College team. He has his own TikTok channel that has 162,800 followers.
There’s also Kurt, 14, a freshman at BG, and Troy, 12, who’s in sixth grade.
All four of them are dancing together in many of the videos, with Luke serving as the front man.
“I’ve got some rhythm,” Luke said when asked if he’s really a good dancer. “These dances aren’t the hardest thing in the world, and the more you do it the easier it gets.
“Kyle and Kurt can really dance. Everyone loves Kurt. He’s 14 and looks young but he can really dance.”
The boys’ mother, Gina, and father, Jay, can be seen in some of the videos. Gina is just thrilled her kids were able to find a project they could work on together while stuck in the house.
“The TikTok videos were a great way for the boys to entertain and distract themselves during the COVID lockdown period we all went through,” she said.
“As a mom, any time you see all four of your kids getting along and having fun together, it’s a blessing. Although, I will say, it did get heated at times if one of them couldn’t learn the dance fast enough. Some of those videos took a long time to perfect.”
The videos are short, but well done. The brothers all have good screen presence and chemistry, making for some light viewing. The music in some of the videos is risque, but it does represent what younger people are listening to nowadays.
“When we first started, we noticed we were getting a lot of followers and people were liking our stuff,” Luke said.
It wasn’t, however, until a trip to South Carolina that they all fully realized how big the videos had become on TikTok. Especially mom.
The family went to Myrtle Beach in late May and were at a restaurant called Wicked Tuna. Some waitresses noticed the group from the videos, or more precisely, they first noticed Gina Ruggery and then put the rest of it together.
“They recognized my mom even before they noticed us,” Luke said. “That was one of the biggest realizations that people know us now.”
Two of the waitresses posed for a photo with the Ruggery boys.
“The TikTok videos gave me a wonderful video scrapbook of a time when all four of my boys were together and having fun, which, as they get older, I realize times like those will be far and few between,” Gina said.
“However, being recognized as the Ruggery boys’ mom while in South Carolina on vacation is still something I am processing. It definitely caught me off guard that someone that far from our home knew who we were. Not sure how I feel about that yet. A bit strange.”
The videos are popular for a lot of reasons.
Including, no doubt, the 6-pack abs.
Luke Ruggery is ripped, and so is Kyle. The two brothers show off their physiques in many of the videos, dancing around in tight shorts.
There’s no doubt that stuff helps bring in viewers, as well.
“Me and Kyle work on our bodies, so why not,” Luke said.
“That does also play a part in (the success). As the summer went on, we started making videos (without shirts on), and if you ever slide through the comments, there’s four or five (mentions of that), so that’s definitely one of the factors that come into play.”
Can you make money doing this?
The easy answer is yes.
But the answer for Luke Ruggery, right now, is no.
He can’t make any money from his internet fame. As a college athlete, he is forbidden from profiting off his name, image or likeness.
“I actually make zero dollars through this TikTok profile, which kind of stinks,” Ruggery said.
“I could be making a decent amount of money, actually. I get emails all the time and DMs of pretty legit companies asking me to promote their products or put them in a video.”
Unlike YouTube, where users can upload videos and monetize them to make money, TikTok users can only make money through sponsors or ad placement. That could change in the future, but that’s just the way it is for now.
Something else that should change in the near future is that Ruggery will indeed be able to make money off his videos.
After years and years of lawsuits and legal decisions, the NCAA has pending proposals that would allow student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) beginning in August of 2021.
“(When the rules change) I’m pretty sure I can use my social media accounts to make money,” Ruggery said.
So, how much money could Ruggery have made already from his videos? He found a website a while back that guessed $10,000, but the number probably could be close to double that right now.
As his number of followers grow, Ruggery should be able to cash in in a big way next year when the NCAA rules allow it.
Bright basketball future ahead
The TikTok stuff has helped make Luke Ruggery famous, but it’s all just a side project compared to his real passion — basketball.
His coach at Bishop Guilfoyle, Chris Drenning, said he’s so proud of Ruggery and that he could talk about him all day.
“There ought to be a picture of him beside the words work ethic in the dictionary,” Drenning said. “He’s just built different. It’s incredible how hard he works.
“He’s just a leader. He drags other people with him.”
Ruggery was an outstanding player at BG, and his toughness helped make him legendary. He got one tooth knocked out and another displaced in the Class 2A state semifinals in 2019, but it didn’t knock him out of the game.
“He got his teeth knocked out and played the next hour swallowing his own blood,” Drenning said.
He had emergency detail work done on the teeth, then played in BG’s state title game, a heartbreaking 54-52 loss to Math, Civics & Sciences Charter School.
Ruggery earned a scholarship to Saint Francis, putting him in rare company for a Blair County high school boy over the past three decades.
There have always been doubters about Ruggery because of his size (5-foot-11 and 160 pounds).
“I had countless people tell me he’s too slow, wasn’t quick enough, wasn’t tall enough,” Drenning said. “But I expect him, by the time he leaves (Saint Francis), to be a starter.”
Ruggery redshirted last season as a freshman and impressed SFU coach Rob Krimmel with his work ethic. Now, Ruggery is expected to be part of the Red Flash’s rotation this season.
He made his college debut in Wednesday night’s historic 80-70 win at Pitt, playing four minutes and shooting 0-for-2 from 3 with one assist and one turnover. He admitted there were some first-game jitters.
“It felt great, to be honest,” he said of getting to play. “I had so much energy, so much emotion. The last actual competitive game I played in was the state championship my senior year (at BG).”
Ruggery is from the area and has followed Saint Francis basketball for a long time, so he does have a good bit of understanding about how big of a win that was for the program to finally beat Pitt. The Red Flash had been 0-29 all-time against the Panthers and had only beaten one power conference team ever (Rutgers in 2014).
“That should be easily in the top five best wins,” Ruggery said.
“The ACC is one of, if not the best, conferences in the country. To have a win like that and to pretty much handle them the whole game, that was crazy. It shows how much work we put in even over these months of quarantine.”
Ruggery’s role on the team will be as a shooter, and he has the green light to put it up when he’s on the court.
“They definitely want me to score the ball,” he said. “That was the biggest thing I did in high school was shoot the 3.”
“Luke is one of the hardest-working players we have had in our program since I’ve been at Saint Francis,” Krimmel said. “He impacted us before he played a minute in a Red Flash uniform with his passion to be great and with his work ethic.
“His ability to shoot the ball, his toughness and understanding of the game will be relied on throughout the year.”
Drenning started laughing when asked about Ruggery’s TikTok videos and jokingly said, “He’s an idiot. Oh my gosh.”
But there is no doubt Drenning loves his former player and believes he has great things ahead of him on the basketball court.
“When he committed, I talked to Rob and said, ‘You’re going to love him. He’s going to lead, he’s going to get straight A’s. You’re never going to have any trouble.
“They don’t make many like him.”
Cory Giger is editor of NittanySportsNow.com and host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 3-4 on WRTA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.