STATESBORO, Ga. (WSAV) – Donald Rutledge, Jr. watched as players flew off the board in the late rounds of Saturday’s NFL Draft, periodically checking his phone to make sure he didn’t miss any calls.
“I’m not going to lie I went into my room and stopped watching for a bit,” the former Georgia Southern and Savannah State safety said. “I was thinking ‘What am I going to do now? What am I going to do next after football.'”
All seven rounds went by without Rutledge hearing his name called. His mother told him to stay patient and ‘pray on it’. Later that day, his phone finally lit up with a call from the Indianapolis Colts.
“I had so much adversity. I wasn’t a five-star recruit. I had to walk-on and I had to put in hard work every day,” Rutledge said after signing a free agent contract with the Colts. “I have always believed in myself but, once I got the call, it was complete.”
The Sumter, South Carolina native is stuck in a holding pattern with virtual meetings as the Colts and the league monitors the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m just excited to get in there and show what I’ve been doing,” Rutledge explained. “Show my versatility, get in the playbook early and play the underdog role that I’ve been playing my entire life.”
Football has taken Rutledge on quite the journey. It started at The Citadel his freshman year. He said the coaching staff wanted to switch him to offense, but Rutledge was convinced he was meant to play defense. He transferred and spent the next three years at Savannah State working on his skills as a safety. With one year of eligibility left as a graduate student, Rutledge wrapped up his collegiate career at Georgia Southern.
“The vision [to make it to the NFL] was a long shot early on in my career because I had so much adversity and I wasn’t this 5-star recruit I had to walk on and I had to grind and get it,” Rutledge explained. “As it started to become a realistic goal, where scouts came to a game and they were calling, I was like ‘Ok maybe I can really do this.'”
After signing his free agent deal, Rutledge took to Twitter with the quote “I’d hate to be that guy in front of me.” Rutledge explained he’s hungry and has no problem beating out players in camp to earn a Week 1 spot in the NFL with the Colts.
“You’ve got to be a dog and have that mentality that you can’t lose because the game could come down to you,” Rutledge added. “You can’t be a nice safety and you aren’t going to meet too many nice safeties out there eon the field because one play could lose you the game.”
Darius Leonard, a current linebacker with the Colts, played against Rutledge and Savannah State before heading off to the NFL. Rutledge Jr. said he’s looking forward to meeting back up with his former MEAC foe and contributing to Indianapolis’ defense on day one.
Sports reporter Connor DelPrete has more with the NFL-bound Rutledge Monday night on WSAV at 11.