GREENBACK — Wyatt Rutgerson has been often labeled a long shot because of his size, but his one season with Greenback's football team proved the naysayers wrong.
Following a solid senior season, Rutgerson will have the opportunity to play at the Division III level after signing a National Letter of Intent with Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“It’s been a big dream of mine since I was 5 years old,” Rutgerson said. “I’ve always watched people on TV and always thought it would be awesome to play at such a high level at something I love to do. I was super excited to be blessed with the opportunity and to have great coaches come along, especially with Coach (Greg) Ryan.”
Rutgerson spent his first three years of high school at William Blount, where he saw limited action.
He received more playing time with the Governors during his sophomore and junior seasons but mostly played defensive back.
“I played a little bit of JV my freshman year and then my sophomore year I started at defensive back at corner," he said. "I didn’t play much of a role on the offensive side as much as I wanted to. I started my junior year, the last couple of games. I probably had around 300 yards receiving in the last three games, so I wasn’t really a big factor on the offensive side. On the defensive side, I put up decent numbers — two or three interceptions my sophomore year and the same for my junior year. I had around 50 tackles my junior year.”
When Rutgerson transferred to Greenback following his junior season in December 2018, he immediately caught the attention of head coach Greg Ryan.
“Wyatt’s character is just unbelievable," Ryan said. "I mean, he’s arguably one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. He’s just a super good person — not only the fact he respects his elders, but he’s also really good to his teammates and to everybody he comes in contact with. Throw in the fact he’s a good athlete. Wyatt can do lots of different things.
“I guess the most impressive thing I saw him do at Greenback was in the weight room. He was super strong, not only upper body, but lower body. When you’re not the biggest guy in the world, having that strength, I think, helped him with injury prevention, which is a big key.”
Rutgerson said it took a while for him to adapt to a new school and learn a different system.
He put in countless hours of conditioning and in the weight room to prepare his body for the toll of playing both ways for the Cherokees as starting running back/slot receiver and defensive back.
“At Greenback, I had to be in much better shape for my senior year, so it was a big change,” Rutgerson said. “It was a much faster pace. Coach Ryan, obviously, is an offensive-minded guy and made sure that I had to get the playbook and the system down as soon as I got there. It was definitely much tougher than William Blount in that aspect because I had to learn a new system that I didn’t get a chance to for three years at William Blount. I had to learn everything in one year in the summer. Coach Ryan sat with me after practices and made it really easy on me.”
Rutgerson made an immediate impact, playing an integral role in the run to the Class 1A state championship game.
He was the team’s leading rusher with 873 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and proved a threat out of the backfield with 559 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Due to Rutgerson’s versatility, the coaching staff had a hard time deciding where to put him on the field early in the season.
“It was kind of a situation where I was trying my best to leave him in the slot because he was a really good weapon as a receiver, and that’s what we had worked on all preseason, and we never really established who was going to be our running back at that point,” Ryan said. “I felt like after the Loudon and Meigs County game, I had too many tendencies where if Wyatt was in the backfield, there was a good chance he was going to get the ball. If he’s in the slot, there’s a very good chance he’s going to get the ball, so I had to make some adjustments there.”
Defensively, Rutgerson finished the season with 45 tackles, 28 assists, five tackles for loss and five interceptions. He was named the Region 2-1A Defensive Back of the Year and was named to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class 1A All-State first team as an athlete.
“He was very physical as far as being a blocker,” Ryan said. “We could use him in play-action pass because his capability of running the football was an obvious threat to defenses. He’s a very smart kid, very football intelligent, which allows him to be able to do a lot of different things as far as playing different positions. He was a big, big key factor in us going as far as we did.”
Rutgerson started receiving interest following his junior season. Offers began to roll in at the conclusion of his senior year.
Although several schools were highly interested, he ultimately felt Mount St. Joseph was the “perfect fit” for him due to an emphasis of family and faith.
He is expected to play offense primarily as a slot receiver for the Lions. He could also see some time at running back.
“I had heard from a couple of D1 and D2 facilities, such as Liberty and Old Dominion and went to their camps,” he said. “It all boiled down to how much the school appreciated me and showed how much they loved me and took me in. It wasn’t all about football, but it was about family and how everything went into play, and MSJ really brought me in. All their coaches are personable guys, and I just love talking to them. They were easy to talk to and very good Christian guys.”
Ryan believes Rutgerson has what it takes to succeed.
“There’s no kid that’s going to work any harder than Wyatt, and Wyatt will do everything asked of him plus extra,” Ryan said. “Wyatt’s really a kid that loves the game. ... He’s continuously running to get himself into shape and ready to go, he’s working out hard. He does everything in his power to get himself ready, and I think they’ll acknowledge that when he gets there. He’ll fight for a position, I’m sure.”
Rutgerson reports to camp in early August.
“I’m not only going to try and outlast the freshmen that are going to be there, but I’ve also got to compete with guys that have been there for three or four years,” he said. “It’s kind of a humbling factor for me to be able to even play college football, but at the same time, I know I’ve got to step up my game to be better than the players that are already playing at that higher level. I’m super excited.”