Football stars Jeff Rutledge, Tony Nathan headed back to Alabama

Football stars Jeff Rutledge, Tony Nathan headed back to Alabama
Football great Tony Nathan autographs his book, "Touchdown Tony: Running with a Purpose," during an appearance in Birmingham last year. Nathan will appear with former high school rival and Alabama Crimson Tide teammate Jeff Rutledge at a Thursday benefit for Banks Academy. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Two of the best high school football players that Birmingham has ever seen will be back in the city Thursday night.

Jeff Rutledge of Banks and Tony Nathan of Woodlawn will speak and mingle with fans at The Club, where Banks Academy will host a banquet to raise money for its private Christian high school.

Former Banks High and University of Alabama running back Johnny Musso did the same for his old school last year.

Banks Academy is carrying on the name of the old Banks High School, which was transformed into a middle school in 1989 and is now an unoccupied eyesore on the city’s eastside.

Graduates and friends of Banks worked together to raise money and start the academy in the Lakewood Baptist Church building, about four blocks up a hill and down the street from the old high school.

The big one

Rutledge and Nathan are remembered not only for their high school days, but also for their college years playing for Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama.

On Nov. 8, 1974, they were at Legion Field for a momentous high school game.

There was a chill in the air and traffic was backed up for miles as fans made their way to the stadium. To make matters worse, only four gates were open.

Still, the largest crowd to watch a high school game in Alabama – an estimated 42,000 – were on hand. Police working the traffic said another 20,000 turned around and went home.

What they missed was Rutledge completing 9 of 10 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown, and the Jets defeating the Colonels 18-7.

Nathan remembers the game as being “very physical.”

Rutledge remembers Banks linebacker Greg Muse lining up on Nathan and limiting the running back’s yardage.

The MVP

Later at Alabama, Rutledge and Nathan played on teams that won 42 games and lost 6 with three SEC titles and a national championship.

Former Banks High School Coach Shorty White joined them when Bryant hired him as an assistant coach.

Rutledge was named Most Valuable Player on the 1978 national championship team.

He was a ninth-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams. He also played for the Giants and Redskins.

For most of 14 years, Rutledge was a backup quarterback and holder for field goals and extra points. But he did rally his teams to some come-from-behind victories.

He has been married 41 years to the former Laura Holmes, who was a Bama Belle at the Capstone. They have three children.

Tony Nathan (22) breaks away for a long run during his days as a Woodlawn High School star. (contributed)

Coming home

Nathan remembers being recruited by Oklahoma but said, “It was too far and too cold. I wanted to be near my family and I really enjoyed my time in Tuscaloosa.”

He was a third-round draft pick of the Dolphins, where he played for nine years and compiled more than 7,100 yards rushing and receiving. He also returned kicks and punts for more than 1,600 yards.

Still living in the Miami area, he works as a bailiff for Judge Ed Newman, who was his teammate with the Dolphins.

Nathan is married to the former Johnnie Wilson, his high school sweetheart.

Nathan and Rutledge are now 61 years old, but they still remember the days at Banks and Woodlawn and look forward to “coming home” for the banquet.

Rutledge said he once told Banks athletes Bobby Johns and Mike Dutton that “If I could go back to any point in my life, I would go back to Banks and play football.”

Interested in going to the banquet? For ticket information, go to www.banksacademy.org/donate.

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