Written by Jeff Ames, The Spectrum
Ty Rutledge has a chip on his shoulder. He’s had it since the 2012 football season began, maybe even earlier. He’s not angry, nor does he harbor any feelings of resentment towards the sporting community, even though most pegged Desert Hills to limp through the regular season and finish fourth or fifth at best.
No, Rutledge isn’t angry. He’s hungry. Hungry to prove the naysayers and skeptics — the same naysayers and skeptics that continue to doubt the Thunder’s capability even after their jaw-dropping finish atop Region 9 last week – wrong.
“We still consider ourselves the underdogs because everybody keeps saying Desert Hills isn’t the real deal,” Rutledge said. “They say our beating Hurricane was a fluke. It’s fueled us. We honestly want to be on top.”
This Friday marks Desert Hills’ first home playoff game since hosting Park City in the opening round last year. Of course this team bears little resemblance to the one that burned its way to the state championship and featured the likes of Porter Harris, Mike Needham and Nate Brinker. But that doesn’t matter to Rutledge.
The young QB, who slid into the role after two seasons at receiver, has one goal to accomplish before he heads off into the sunset: win state.
“Ty has basically said, ‘Okay this is my senior season. This is my team and I’m going to take it,’” Thunder coach Carl Franke said. “And I’ve let him. I’ve told him, ‘It’s yours, just go ahead and take it.’”
Franke remains one of Rutledge’s most ardent supporters, a respect born several seasons ago when the young athlete walked onto the football field as an up-and-coming sophomore. “He came onto the varsity squad as this skinny little kid with a lot of athletic ability. That was basically the year I changed our offense. I went from a little bit of a pro, west coast style offense to a spread offense where we throw the ball around a lot more and utilize our athletes.”
Unbeknownst to Rutledge, Franke made the change because of him. “We just knew he was one of those kids that would do anything it took to win a ballgame.”
Desert Hills finished a meager 3-3 in region that season, but advanced to the playoffs where they lost 27-7 to Delta in the quarterfinals. Rutledge completed just nine receptions for 115 yards in his role as a slot receiver, but logged time in other positions, including QB, as well.
“We used him where we could his sophomore year,” Franke said. “In the offseason he made himself better. He worked hard and got bigger, stronger and faster.”
As such, Rutledge landed a more substantial role his junior season: wide receiver. With Harris (and occasionally Brinker) at the helm, Rutledge gave Desert Hills’ offense a terrific asset, nabbing 42 receptions for 591 yards and eight touchdowns. He even brought in a decisive 33-yard catch against Cedar in the semifinals that gave the Thunder a 17-14 advantage early in the final period.
“Ty was the one who basically got us into the finals, catching that deep ball,” Franke said. “He’s just a phenomenal athlete and a great leader both on and off the field.”
So impressed was Franke with Rutledge’s skill last season that he opted to start him at QB, a decision that paid off handsomely.
“The thing with me was I wanted my best athlete touching the ball every play,” Franke said. “And I just felt like, if he played receiver he’s gonna touch it 10, maybe 15 times a game. But if he’s playing quarterback he’s touching it 6o times a game. And I just wanted my best guy to touch the ball a lot every game because I felt like that gave us the best chance at winning games.”
True to form, Rutledge delivered an impressive 5-1 region record, capping wins against Hurricane and Pine View in the process, and compiled an astounding 1,450 passing yards and 891 rushing yards to go with 27 touchdowns.
“A lot of the kids joke around, but they know darn well that without Ty Rutledge at the helm for us we wouldn’t have a chance at winning a ballgame,” Franke said. “He’s that important to this football team.”
For Rutledge, a St. George native who grew up in a household consisting of three older sisters, success remains a constant in his family, as does leadership and athleticism. His father Karl, for example, played college football and baseball, while his sisters had a hand in everything from volleyball and softball to dance.
“We’ve got a talented family, and that’s helped me learn a lot,” he said. “I’ve always played sports and felt like a leader no matter what position I played.”
Desert Hills’ destiny truly lies in Rutledge’s hands. And so, with Payson coming to town, Rutledge will continue to lead his team. And that chip on his shoulder will continue to grow.
“We all have something to prove out there,” he said. “If you don’t play football with something to prove then you’re not going to win. We just need to show up and blow (Payson) out. We want to win and we want to keep going. We can’t worry about what’s being said. We’re just focusing on winning a football game.”