It was the dedication of a roller coaster season. Despite a strong showing at his first training camp in Lions orange, Brandon Rutley had to wait until week five for a shot on the active roster. The euphoria quickly wore off when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL after rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Ottawa RedBlacks.
Many would view it as a missed opportunity to be the squad’s featured running back. As he fully recovers during an intense offseason rehab schedule in his offseason home in Oakland, California, Rutley himself views that setback as a blessing in disguise.
“Those are the exact words to describe it,” said an excited Rutley on Tuesday afternoon.
“I hate to say it but I think sometimes going through an injury might be the best thing for you. Physically, I’ve been able to work muscles that I’ve never worked before in my life. I just feel that now I’m in the best shape that I’ve been in for a long time in terms of endurance, strength and explosion.”
We always knew Rutley was a positive man. Going through the tough recovery was also good for his mental state off the field and outside the gym;
“I was also able to re-discover myself spiritually and I was able to lock in more mentally and emotionally with my partner Michelle as well as prepare my body and mind for what I believe will be the best season of my career,” he said.
Much like trading for the now departed Tyrell Sutton later last season, the addition of Rutley from Montreal was designed to bring some physicality to the Lions’ backfield. Though a small sample size before going down, the former San Jose State Spartan came as advertised in his lone appearance.
Having only appeared in 36 games since debuting with Hamilton way back in 2012, Rutley understands there are no guarantees heading into this season as he joins forces with newcomer John White as part of the Lions running back contingent that will be in Kamloops.
“The key is to not get too frustrated,” explained Rutley.
“You have to understand your role and when you do that the frustration isn’t really there. It’s about doing what you have to do in practice so you’re prepared when your number is called. I knew last season that once I played I was going to perform.”
His commitment to getting back to full health was also noticed by general manager Ed Hervey who locked up the bruising back to a new contract hours before free agency opened on February 12th. Getting the vote of confidence from Lions brass has only fuelled him even more.
“I’m extremely grateful. What was so cool was that when I first met Ed he was so honest to me and said ‘we’re always going to be honest with you and we’re going to keep you straight,’” said the running back.
“They have been very consistent in that way. I think they saw the way I trained and the work ethic that I had and the way I carried myself was all business. I feel like they truly believed in me and that has given me that extra push to train so damn hard to get back. I really want to be able to showcase myself. I feel in my heart they feel I can have a major impact on the offence helping Mike and the receivers out. Having John and I in the backfield, I think it can be a special 2019 season on offence.”
He has also had brief discussions with DeVone Claybrooks and already loves what his new head coach brings to the table for this new-look roster.
“What I like about him is he has always been a straight shooter,” said Rutley.
“He doesn’t need all the extra conversation, he just wants to be able to ask if you are ready to go. I recall a few years ago when I was in Montreal and we were playing against Calgary. I was headed for free agency and he told me ‘don’t be surprised if somebody gets you during free agency.’ I feel like we always had mutual respect for one another.I’m excited to be around these guys.”
When he’s not crushing a workout in the gym or sprinting in the sunny California weather, Rutley and Michelle are putting the final touches on their wedding set for next month. The couple met at San Jose State where Rutley majored in communications and Michelle was finishing a business degree before embarking on her successful career as a project manager at Facebook.
“When your household and relationship are in order, it’s way easier to perform on the field,” he said.
“I needed to be home during this time of planning so that we can really strengthen ourselves together. We’ve really been able to connect in every way possible. We’re both excited. There are no cold feet over here.”
These days, his feet are way too quick to be cold.