Former Crestwood High School football defensive back standout Donald Rutledge reported to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts last Tuesday, but he was far from being able to get into the team facility in Indianapolis. Instead of checking into …
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Former Crestwood High School football defensive back standout Donald Rutledge reported to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts last Tuesday, but he was far from being able to get into the team facility in Indianapolis. Instead of checking into a hotel and spending most of his week in the facility, Rutledge was stuck in his hotel for most of the week, going through a series of coronavirus tests. While he wanted to get to work in the team facility, Rutledge said sitting in his hotel room was where he really started to get the feeling that he was vying for a job in the National Football League.
"It set in when I was sitting in the hotel room one night, and I was just looking out the window at Indiana. I've been here before, but it's the reason I'm here now," said Rutledge. "I got the lanyard and the badges to get in the facility, so it's like, 'Wow, you're really here,' and it's crazy. I try to do that often, just kinda tell myself and remind myself that I'm really here and it's a blessing to be here."
Rutledge and his fellow rookies needed two negative coronavirus tests before actually getting to go into the team facility. Those negative tests had to be spread out, so they were stuck in the hotel until Saturday. While they waited, they had a series of virtual team meetings despite all being in the same building.
"It's weird because I'll walk right by the safeties coach or I might walk past the defensive coordinator and say 'What's up, what time we meeting?' Then we don't meet in person, we go home and meet," said Rutledge. "It's crazy. We've all got our masks on, but they won't allow us until we get those two negative tests and then after that the protocol is you have to wait until Monday, so I'm thinking Monday is going to be the first day we get to have in-person meetings."
Rutledge didn't mind the extra week of hurdles, because it just gave him more time to focus on the mental aspect of the game.
"I try to view it as what can I gain from this," said Rutledge. "Being that it's more virtual meetings and we haven't been called up for OTAs (organized team activities) and rookie minicamps and things like that, I look at it as more time to study the film, more time to learn the plays and really drill in the mental rep(ition)s, so when we do get out here, you know your assignments spot on.
"I just take that time to really focus in and really prepare mentally for what I got to step into. I feel like the game is really more so mental and the guys that can handle the mental capacity of it, they're the ones that stay the longest, because physically everybody is kind of there and physically my play will show, but if I don't get it all mentally then that's what's going to be the deciding factor."
The week was made more complicated by the fact that the NFL and the National Football League Players Association were still trying to figure out what coronavirus protocols would look like. Because those discussions weren't completed ahead of time, Rutledge didn't really have a clear idea of what his schedule would be on a day-to-day basis. It was also weird that he was able to get as much information from the NFL Network as he was receiving from the Colts.
"I was thinking the team would get the info first, but if you watch the NFL Network or something, they're getting all the information at the same time. I may get it before the team gets it because it's getting out there at the same time," said the former Crestwood star. "The schedule wasn't released for the next day until probably the night before. There wasn't a set schedule because we didn't know what the protocols were going to be. It was just like be prepared and be ready."
Safety protocols weren't the only things the NFL established last week. One of the biggest pieces of news for undrafted free agents like Rutledge was the league announcing that roster sizes during training camp would be trimmed from 90 players to 80. The NFL also announced there would be no preseason games this year. The cut from 90 to 80 players is expected to be made the week of Aug. 15, which doesn't give Rutledge a ton of time to prove he's worth a spot, but the former Knight isn't too concerned.
"In all honesty, it didn't change my confidence. Nothing wavered in me, I'm confident, I know God's got me and he brought me this far for a reason," said Rutledge. "I'm confident with the room that I'm in, so it didn't really bother me as much. I feel for some of my other guys that I know across the league that are walking into certain situations, but I'm confident. I know God's got me and I'm just ready to get out there.
"I'm not going to look at numbers of who's getting cut here, I'm just really going to focus on me daily. Every day I'm focused on what I can get better at, how can I improve today, every day, I'm just trying to stay alive. As long as I make myself uncuttable, I'm producing, I'm doing everything I need to do. I'm a rookie, but if I'm mentally and I'm playing like a veteran on that kind of level, I feel like it'll be too hard for them to cut me and if they do, there will be a place for me somewhere in this league."
After an odd week, Rutledge finally got into the Colts facility for the first time on Saturday. Walking into the locker room and seeing a locker with his name on it was a memory he'll hold onto forever.
"Man, once I got out our key fob for it, I was walking in and I was just like, 'Let me do this.' So I scan my key fob and open the door and it's like a crazy feeling," said Rutledge. "They welcomed us in there and said we're the 1%. We're the 1% from high school. I just thought back to all the guys in high school, all the guys in college that were working for this moment, great athletes that were working for this moment and man, I'm here.
"It's a blessing. I just go out with a smile on my face. I always get into this mode where it's time to get back to work, that's just me, but I try to take a step back to just chill, thank God and just live in the moment that I'm in now, look at it, appreciate it."
This week is when the real work starts. Rutledge will get more access to the facility, though he wasn't sure what his schedule will look like. He expects the week to be filled with workouts and conditioning. The Colts rookies will also finally be able to meet in person for the first time. The veterans aren't allowed in the facility yet, so it will just be coaches and rookies in Indianapolis. Rutledge was looking forward to the opportunity to finally actually work out in an NFL facility.
"Man, I'm just excited to get in the facility and start watching film in there and getting in the training room and the weight room," said Rutledge. "I'm just ready to really use all these resources that are at my hand to kind of help me throughout this journey and make me a better player. I'm really excited about it."
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