Story By Ben Enos
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With the first game of his senior season hanging in the balance, Monte Vista football star Nate Rutchena went to a familiar move in his attempt to make a game-winning catch.
Sometimes it’s as simple as boxing out.
A fundamental from the hardwood served the Mustangs’ two-sport star in good stead as he made the decisive catch in Monte Vista’s 27-22 win over Granite Bay on Aug. 23. The catch itself came straight out of the teaching template — quarterback Jack Stewardson lofted a pass to Rutchena’s outside shoulder, giving his teammate a chance to use his 6-foot-3 frame to make a play over a shorter cornerback.
Rutchena planted with his right foot and elevated, shielded the ball with his body and by the time the defender got a hand up to contest the play, the man in black was already on his way to the ground with the game-winning score secured.
“That’s basketball,” Rutchena said through a chuckle. “Coach (Nick) Jones, shout out to him. That’s a box out.”
One of the Bay Area’s premier two-sport athletes made the first game of his final football season in Danville a memorable one, hauling in 10 passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns. He also made his presence felt on defense, making plays all over the field and pulling down the game-clinching interception on Granite Bay’s final drive.
Rutchena, who added 55 more yards receiving and posted 10 tackles in a 20-0 shutout of San Leandro on Sept. 6, will lead state No. 34-ranked Monte Vista (2-0) into a NorCal showdown with No. 13 Liberty-Brentwood on Friday night at Heritage High in Brentwood.
Rutchena’s versatility comes from more than athletic ability, and it is that entire package that has college football coaches salivating for what might be yet to come. Listed on most recruiting sites as an athlete, he holds offers from schools including Cal, Nevada, Air Force and San Jose State.
Offensively, it isn’t hard to find him.
In Monte Vista coach Matt Russi’s offense, Rutchena will line up outside this season and provide a big target for fellow senior Stewardson to key on.
Against the Grizzlies, Rutchena showed his possession abilities, stopping on a dime and making a first down catch on the sideline. He also showed his speed, busting loose for Stewardson to drop a 40-yard dime over the defense for his second touchdown of the night.
But while his talents on offense jump off the stat sheet, it’s his versatility on defense that might really make the biggest difference for the Mustangs. Against Granite Bay, Rutchena lined up all over the field. At times, he played center field as a safety. Soon thereafter, he found himself lined up on a Grizzlies receiver in the slot. And he even dropped into the box, coming off the edge on a backside blitz.
“We designed the defense around him this year,” Russi said. “He’s a better defensive player than offensive player. He doesn’t like me saying that, but it’s the truth.”
Allowing his coaches to count on a consistent output is already a luxury for Russi and the Mustangs, but Rutchena’s value doesn’t stop with talent. The ability to adjust on the fly is just as important and just as impressive.
“He does stuff on defense that we don’t teach him. It’s just pure instinct,” Russi said. “He sees something one time and the next time they come back to it, he’s got it. He’s a stud on defense. The way we play our defense is based around his versatility.”
In the age of specialization, Rutchena also represents a throwback in more ways than one. Rarely coming off the field on either side of the ball, his ability to stay in the middle of the action allows him to maximize his impact on the game.
And perhaps that comes from his two-sport profile. Once he moved into the gym during his junior season, Rutchena’s basketball accolades were just as impressive as those garnered on the gridiron. He averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game for Jones’ Mustangs to earn first team All-East Bay Athletic League honors.
Oh, and he’s able to play both ways in basketball, too, also leading Monte Vista in steals. Whether applied to offense, defense or team intangibles, drawing parallels between the two sports has proven valuable on both the hardwood and the gridiron.
“The touchdown, that’s boxing out and going up to make a play. When you’re guarding a guy one on one and playing in front of him, he’s trying to dribble past you and you’ve got to stay in front,” Rutchena said. “Screens are like offensive linemen – you’ve got to figure out a way to get over or under it. (Playing multiple) sports is helpful. Even baseball. That last play, you’re a center fielder. You read the quarterback’s eyes and you go make the play. Any sport can help you.”
Even with an abundance of talent to draw on, Rutchena also has a firm grasp on the bigger picture when it comes to team success. He joined classmates Stewardson, Connor Shay, and Zach Schriefer as captains for the season opener and all four took the field as three-year starters for the Mustangs, a point Russi underscored after the game when discussing the resilience that proved critical in beating the Grizzlies.
The opportunity to fill that leadership role is one Rutchena takes seriously, because he knows the chance to set the right tone might prove critical as Monte Vista navigates one of the toughest schedules in the state.
After the matchup with Liberty, the Mustangs will play Northern California will have a nonleague showdown with Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland before entering the always-tough East Bay Athletic League.
“We had a great leader last year in David Hayward who’s off at Army now, but coach Russi pulled me and Shay and Stew together and said hey look, we go as you go,” Rutchena said. “If you guys are slouching, we’ll all be slouching. If you guys have intensity and excitement, we’ll have that same thing.”
Ben Enos is one of the primary feature writers for SportStars Magazine.