Bill Rutledge is the all-time leader in single season receiving in Warren County football history, and now he can add Warren County Sports Hall of Fame inductee to his list of achievements.
“I am thrilled. I am ecstatic about it, both myself and my family,” he said.
Rutledge was announced as one of the 12 individuals selected for the Warren County Sports Hall of Fame. If you look into his football career, it is not hard to see why he was selected. He is the all-time Pioneer leader in single season receiving with 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1989.
“Back in my day it was great. We had a lot of athletes on my team, but we weren’t as successful as we wanted to be. We played some really good teams in our era and we competed with them, we just couldn’t string together enough wins to be a successful team in terms of wins and losses,” said Rutledge.
He got his start playing football when he was a little boy despite his mother initially not wanting him to play.
“I started playing football in my front yard with some kids from my neighborhood who actually had already started playing little league football. At the time my mother would not let me play because she was afraid I was going to get hurt,” said Rutledge.
He finally convinced her to let him play and ended up playing on a pretty successful team coached by Dale Harris.
“I played with some guys on that team who I ended up playing with in high school and one in college,” said Rutledge.
Rutledge’s record-breaking season started as a casual challenge.
“I remember coach Ronnie Graham talking to me one day at practice … and he kind of was giving me a history about himself in high school and how he accumulated like 700 or 800 yards and he kind of just joking said, ‘You couldn’t do that’ and when he said that it kind of struck a nerve with me and challenged me at that point in time. I don’t know if he really knew that, but it challenged me and from that point on I wanted to try to accumulate as many yards as I could to pass his mark,” he said.
His goal became a reality when he went into the last game of the season against Sparta.
“Coach came up to me and said ‘you need 100-and-something yards to get to 1,000’ and I said ‘OK’ and I went out that night and was fortunate enough with my teammates first of all to get the win and second of all I got enough yards to get to 1,000 and go over by 19,” said Rutledge.
Records were not discussed as much back then so he was not fully aware that he would become the leader in single season receiving.
After high school, Rutledge went on to play for the University of Memphis and played two seasons for a semi pro team, the Nashville Kats, where he caught 67 passes and 15 touchdowns in those two seasons and finished with 798 receiving yards.
“It was great playing for Memphis,” he said.
Rutledge said his team almost got to play in the Liberty Bowl. All they had to do was beat East Carolina. They had heard of all the gifts and perks that come with advancing to bowl games, but they couldn’t get past ECU and missed out on that opportunity.
“We go into that game with a lot of upside and I actually thought we were going to win that game because our defense ranked one or two nationally every week. I think we just forgot about the game and ended up losing to East Carolina and that was it,” said Rutledge.
Despite not getting to go to the Liberty Bowl, he still made some lifelong connections playing football with both Memphis and for the Nashville Kats.
“I still to this day have friends that I speak to, sometimes on a weekly basis. I created some relationships with guys that I think will last forever. Playing professionally at that age was a great experience for me,” said Rutledge.
Playing professionally also taught him how to be a better athlete.
“I got to see how as a professional athlete you have to hold yourself to a certain standard and performance because that’s what your contract is based on. You have to do a lot of things right in order to maintain a certain level week in and week out,” said Rutledge.
As for his life after football, Rutledge got married to his wife Kim and they have two sons.
“I am blessed beyond measure,” he said.
All of Rutledge’s hard work as an athlete has paid off, with him being among those inducted in the Warren County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I couldn’t accomplish any of these things without Jesus,” he said.
Rutledge is going to be introduced along with the 12 others at a banquet on Thursday, Aug. 26 and honored at the Pioneer football game Friday, Aug. 27. He and his family are very excited about his induction.
“When we got the word, it was a very proud moment for me and my family. Also for the teammates I played with because none of this would have happened without them,” he said.
He attributes his success to his teammates and support along the way.
“Football is 11 men on one side and 11 men on the other side, so I am just very fortunate that I got to go in the Hall of Fame, but it is because of the teammates and coaches and support I’ve had throughout the years,” said Rutledge.