Family, career the focus for Laura Rutledge

SEC Nation host Laura Rutledge talks to her co-hosts during the SEC Nation broadcast in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

Laura Rutledge will make her return to ESPN today after taking the summer off for maternity leave following the birth of her second child, Jack, who was born in late May.

Before heading back to Bristol, Conn., to return to work, the former Miss Florida winner spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Little Rock.

Rutledge used the platform to talk about her journey from being a professional dancer to becoming a rising stars in sports journalism.

She also talked about how even though her family is growing, she is still more motivated than ever to continue working at a high level and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

"There have been so many people who said, 'Well you can't do that,' " Rutledge said. " 'There is no way that you can be the mom of two young kids and continue this career.' I think the more people say I can't, the more I'm like, 'Well let me show you that I can.' "

Rutledge said family support is extremely important in order to achieve success, no matter what the family dynamics may be.

She spoke about growing up in the Southeast and deciding to attend the University of Florida at an important point in the sports history there.

"I had in-state academic scholarships to Florida and Florida State," she said. "I essentially flipped a coin, chose Florida, and ended up there at one of the best sports times in all of Florida history from 2007-2011. I lucked out, certainly, in being able to cover those teams."

Rutledge turned a college internship on a radio station in Gainesville, Fla., into a full-time opportunity with Fox Sports as a sideline reporter.

With little football knowledge at all entering college, she said she committed to learning as much about the ins and outs of the game as she could while covering the very competitive Florida high school football recruiting scene.

After college, Rutledge, now 34, quickly climbed the ladder in sports media. Getting to ESPN was a goal of her's, and she refused to take no for an answer.

"I was sending incessant emails," Rutledge said. "I think they probably thought I was crazy. I sent like 27 emails to anybody who had ESPN in the last part of their email address. I just thought if somebody would just talk to me and give me a chance."

That chance came in 2014 when she landed an interview with ESPN that took place at the Atlanta International Airport, just weeks before the launch of the SEC Network.

She landed the job and was assigned to the SEC Network, a station that she continues to appear on in addition to her NFL duties with ESPN.

While she has not appeared on TV over the summer, Rutledge has still been paying close attention as the upcoming football season approaches. She said she has an optimistic view of how the Razorbacks will look this season.

"KJ Jefferson and [Raheim] Rocket Sanders coming back, is if not the best, one of the best one-two punches in all of college football," she said. "Those guys are the heartbeat of this team. The defense is going to be better. It can only go up from where it was last year," she added, drawing laughter from the packed crowd on hand.

"The physicality that they are known for. The physicality, the brand of football that the Razorbacks should be, I believe will be much more prevalent than it was last year. I really think that there's going to be a lot of people who underestimated them this year."