By: Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
Sometimes in life, what seems like a minor decision made on a whim can actually turn out to be something much bigger.
In the case of Malorie Rutledge, who is arguably the most decorated player to ever wear an LSU soccer uniform, such a decision came in the third grade growing up in Newnan, Ga.
“I remember one day getting off the bus and coming home from school and asking my parents to sign me up for soccer,” Rutledge recalls. “They signed me right up and I played on a boys’ rec team where I was the only girl.”
Once she started playing the game, it didn’t take long for Rutledge to realize that it was something she would enjoy – despite being the only girl on the field.
“My first game ever, I scored nine goals,” she said. “Who wouldn’t love a game where you score nine goals and get snacks after every game? My dreams to play soccer started that day.”
After playing the game for several years, it became clear to Malorie that she had great potential as a player. When she was 12 years old, Rutledge realized that she needed to join a more competitive league. After all, scoring nine goals in a single game is fun, but to develop as a player and fulfill that great potential she would need to sharpen her skills against tough competition.
“This is where I started my journey as a true player,” Rutledge says, “and it was under the guidance of Jerry Brian Moore, one of America’s top youth coaches, whom I credit a lot of my success to.”
Under Moore’s tutelage, Rutledge developed her game while playing club soccer for the Peachtree City Lazers and Concorde Fire while also starring at East Coweta High School. By the time she was 19 years old, Rutledge had honed her skills and matured into a terrific all-around prospect. She was part of a Lazers squad that won the Georgia Club State Championship four times and a Region III Premiere League championship in 2004. LSU, a program under the direction of a new coach, had taken notice and once she took a trip to Baton Rouge, she knew that it was the right place to continue her playing career.
“I knew the second I stepped on campus at LSU that it was the right fit for me,” Rutledge said. “Brian Lee had just been hired as the coach and I knew he was going to make the program into something special.”
Between the campus environment, the academic support programs – which Rutledge lauded as some of the best she has seen to date – and the support of the Tigers community, Malorie felt that LSU offered everything she needed to succeed on and off the field.
Once she was in Baton Rouge for her freshman year in 2006, Rutledge says that Coach Lee completely changed her perspective of the game and what it took to be successful on and off the field. Along with Associate Head Coach Debbie Hensley and the strength and conditioning staff, Rutledge elevated her game to an even higher level as a Tiger.
“[Coach Lee] made it clear to me that I had all the potential in the world, but you have to work for it,” Rutledge said. “Day in and day out, he would held me develop as a player – whether it was staying after practice and working on set pieces or coming early to help with finishing. Soon I developed a mentality that I never wanted to fail and I would work as hard as I could to help our team be successful.”
Rutledge was not the only talented freshman to set foot on campus that year. Lee had assembled a group of 12 freshmen that would change the complexion of the LSU program. Along with Rutledge, the group included Elise Bourgeois, Nikki Bush, Amanda Carreno, Rachel Hartman, Katherine Lagow, Brittany Lowe, Michelle Makasini, Chelsea Potts, Kennedy Richards, Kathleen Walsh and Rachel Yepez. Eventually this group would distinguish itself as the most successful class in program history, winning 50 games in their four years together from 2006-2009.
From Rutledge’s perspective, Lee was the reason for much of the group’s success. Not only did Lee assemble such a special group of players, but he developed them as individual players and as a team.
“I give a lot of credit to Brian for not only getting all 12 of us to LSU but for dealing with 12 freshmen on and off the field,” Rutledge said. “It wasn’t long after we all arrived at LSU that we developed that family bond. We all became inseparable, and that chemistry led to our success on the field.”
Lee created a “Fitter, Faster, Stronger” mantra that drove the team, and created an ultra-competitive practice environment that demanded accountability from players. If one member of the team didn’t work until the final whistle, there were consequences.
“If you didn’t [finish], one of your teammates made you aware of it,” Rutledge says. “Trust me.”
Under the direction of Lee, the fantastic class realized that it only had four years to make its statement, and it made those four seasons count. Together, the 2006 class won three Southeastern Conference Western Division titles and made three NCAA Tournament appearances on top of their 50 victories. In 2008, the Tigers recorded their best record ever with a 14-4-2 mark, including 7-3-1 in SEC play.
Now that her playing days are behind her, Rutledge says that there isn’t a day that goes by without her thinking of her LSU career.
“It truly is an awesome feeling knowing that I was part of such a monumental step for the soccer program there,” she reflects. “It puts a smile on my face when I think about it. I did not work for all the [individual] awards or honors that were given; I worked hard because I wanted to win and I did not want to let my team, coaching staff, or the community of LSU down.”
Even while surrounded by such stellar talent in her own class, Rutledge still managed to distinguish herself as a dominant player. Although she did not play for personal achievements, by the time she left Baton Rouge she had garnered an impressive set of individual accolades to go along with LSU’s historic team success.
Among those honors are three All-American selections, three first team All-SEC selections, and consecutive SEC Offensive Player of the Year distinctions in ’08 and ’09. Rutledge is LSU’s all-time leader in career starts (88), assists (46), points (102) and game-winning goals (12), and her 28 career goals are fourth on the Tigers’ all-time list.
Perhaps the biggest honor of them all actually came after the conclusion of Rutledge’s Tiger career. The Dig, a Baton Rouge news magazine, named Rutledge one of the five greatest female athletes in LSU history, an award that she described succinctly in a single word.
“Surreal,” she said when asked about the honor. “This honor, one that came two years after playing, was one of the best honors I received. LSU has a great line of successful females that have gone on to do great things in their lives and to be mentioned in that category was remarkable. That was the day I knew all my hard work paid off.”
Continuing that great line of successful women, Rutledge went on to play professionally for the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer League in 2010. Her playing career was cut short when she sustained her fourth knee injury, but the legacy she left behind as a player is undeniable. She called her experience with the Independence a dream come true, and something that she will treasure forever.
Rutledge is still heavily involved with the game she loves, now working as an assistant coach at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Before coming back to her home state, she served as an assistant at LSU after her injury in 2010 and then spent a year coaching at Pittsburgh.
The influence of Coach Lee – who Rutledge credits with teaching her many life lessons – at LSU is something that has helped her as she adjusts to her career as a coach.
“Brian liked us to have a structured lifestyle and now I teach this to my college girls,” she said.
But the biggest piece of advice that Coach Lee passed on to her that she now gives her players?
“Everything you do on and off the field leads to your success or failure on the field,” she explained. “Everyone has practice and fitness, but it’s the ones that put in that extra effort either on the field or in the weight room that will make a difference.”
Everything that Rutledge has achieved in her career as a player and now a coach all goes back to that one fateful day that led her to the game she loves. Her four years in an LSU uniform are something she would not trade for the world.
“If I could go back and do it all again, there is not one thing I would change.”