Valley Christian head football coach Jeff Rutledge has accomplished more than most on a football field.
He won two SEC championships under Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama, and won two Super Bowls as a pro. After a decorated pro coaching career, he finds himself in Chandler leading the Trojans.
His players had heard about his accolades, but on Friday, they got to see it.
The school had an advanced screening of the film “Woodlawn”, which tells the story of Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, AL in the early 1970s. The school and city were torn apart by racism, but the team came together through their faith.
Rutledge went to rival Banks High School and was a top quarterback in the country. Through organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the help of chaplain Hank Erwin, played by Sean Astin, Woodlawn and Banks came together to pray and practice together. When the two teams met up in 1974, it had an attendance of upwards of 40,000.
Both Rutledge and Woodlawn’s Touchdown Tony Nathan went on to play at Alabama together and had extensive NFL careers.
After the screening, a visibly-moved Rutledge explained to students, teachers, and members of the “Woodlawn” production about his experience in high school during that period and how prayer eventually helped lead them out of that tough time.
“I loved it,” senior guard Cameron Lau said. “I thought it was a story anyone could benefit from.”
Rutledge had shared his stories with his players, but to see it on the silver screen gave a bigger picture of how different things were and how much faith influenced the players, and eventually the entire community, in Birmingham.
“I didn’t know that he was such a big part of those teams combining,” quarterback Alijah Gammage said. “I didn’t know they went to camp together. I had heard stories, but nothing like what I just saw.”
Rutledge told the crowd he had tears in his eyes for nearly the entire movie because it was a trip down memory lane.
“It portrayed everything pretty accurately,” Rutledge said “It’s neat to see the revival that took place at Woodlawn and from Woodlawn it went to Banks and lives changed.”
That’s exactly what Rutledge and the entire crew hope this film, which hits theaters October 16th, will do. The coach said he spoke to Tony Nathan Friday morning and Nathan said if one life changed from this film, it would be worth it.
Based on the response of the gym after the screening, it’s safe to say it was.