When Georgia Southern safety Donald Rutledge Jr. played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, he knew he had something to prove to Eagle football fans. The graduate transfer had been a standout on defense all season, but NCAA rules deemed him ineligible to play in the Cure Bowl due to academics.
“It was tough,” Rutledge said. “[I] felt like I let my boys down. They understood but whole time I’m watching the game I’m thinking of plays I could’ve made to help the team so it was rough for me.”
In his last regular season game against Georgia State in November, he had seven tackles, but 50 on the season. He spent three seasons leading the Tiger defense at Savannah State prior to his last season of eligibility in Statesboro.
Rutledge accepted the invitation a few months ago and felt honored by the opportunity to continue his football career. The bowl was formed in 2012 by the National Football Association Players Association in efforts to garner attention for senior football players who are eligible for the NFL draft.
I am humbled to announce that I am accepting my invitation to play in the 2020 @NFLPABowl. I just want to say thank you to @chadlunsford, the entire coaching staff & Eagle Nation 💙 for accepting me and making me feel apart of the family since day one. Time to #GATA pic.twitter.com/eNZtkUccyY— Donald Rutledge Jr. (@StuckInARutt__) November 8, 2019
The week-long experience provided many opportunities for Rutledge to showcase his skills and he took full advantage of them. He predicts that there were over 250 scouts present and he was on pins and needles all week. He was coached by former head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, Hue Jackson.
“They were at every practice and in the hotel evaluating everything you did from the way you play to the way you eat, but I got great feedback from everyone I met with,” he said.
The actual game took place at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA and it was a dream come true to play in such a historied venue. The stadium is home to the UCLA football team and has hosted several Super Bowls, World Cups and, of course, the Rose Bowl.
“Crazy being able to play in a stadium where so many big time games were held,” he said. “Definitely a blessing.”
He played alongside game changers from across the country, including several Sun Belt foes from Appalachian State, South Alabama and Troy.
The South Carolina native played for the American Team and tallied two total tackles and a forced fumble, which has been making its rounds on social media. He felt like his performance was solid and that he showed his versatility.
@StuckInARutt__ from the opposite hash - turns on the speed and hits the RB - forces a fumble and saves a TD!!! The @GSAthletics_FB star had a whale of a game - all on a single 4Q drive!!! Great hustle & physical play!! Reminds me of a young @Realrclark25 pic.twitter.com/Vdq2ftjEAL— Joel E. Turner (@NFLAgents_net) January 19, 2020
“I tried my best to enjoy the week but this was a job interview, all business,” he said. “So definitely made sure I handled mine before the fun.”
Rutledge graduated from SSU with a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and is working towards a master’s degree in Manufacturing Engineering.
Amanda Arnold, The George-Anne Managing Sports Editor, email@example.com