Smart Senior Intrigued By Engineering
Posted: January 26, 2013
Hayden Rutherford flourished as a tight end for HHS after moving to the position at midseason. (Photo by Stephen Mitchell / DN-R)
His initial impression was that Rutherford was wasting his intelligence by going to the Colorado School of “Mimes.”
“We were thinking he was going to paint his face white and get out of a glass box,” Thurman said.
Actually, the HHS coach just misheard Rutherford, who has committed to play outside linebacker on a partial scholarship at the Colorado School of Mines, a specialized school with about 5,400 students located in the small city of Golden.
Though the college isn’t well known around here, it’s quite distinguished in engineering circles.
“They were always my No. 1 choice,” said Rutherford, who plans to study petroleum engineering and travel overseas after college, either for work or vacation.
Now, Rutherford – a 6-foot-1, 193-pound brainiac – is a signature away from making it official in February and joining the Orediggers in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
“It’s kind of a funny mascot,” he admitted. “But it goes along with the engineering school there.”
According to the CSM website, the school “has the highest admissions standards of any public university in Colorado” and is “among the highest of any public university in the U.S.” Just 875 out of nearly 12,000 applicants are accepted into the freshman class. The average applicant averages a 1,300 on the SAT.
Rutherford said he took the SAT twice as a junior, scoring a 1,200 to go with his current 4.0-plus GPA. He also dabbles in robotics, which he said probably stood out on his academic résumé.
For the past three years, Rutherford – who moved to Harrisonburg from Springfield, Mo., as a rising sophomore – has participated in an extracurricular club at HHS that competes in an annual regional competition through the FIRST Robotics Competition program.
Last year, Rutherford’s team had to assemble a robot that picked up and shot small basketballs into a series of hoops during a timed exercise, with the highest hoop being worth the most points. This year’s goal is to build a robot that shoots frisbees into a rectangular slit in a wall.
The goal was unveiled on Jan. 5 and the competition will be held on March 14-16 at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond.
“We just do it after school and one of my friends, [HHS senior] Trevor [Cockburn], work a lot with the frame, the wheels and the gears,” said Rutherford, who has also been juggling indoor track as a 55-meter and relay runner. “It’s a four-wheel robot, an engine for each wheel.”
Rutherford’s interest in robots began just after middle school. As a rising freshman, he attended a robotics camp while visiting family in California. There, he said, he worked with “Lego Mindstorms” robots.
“I’ve always been into Legos ever since I was a little kid,” said the oldest of Ken and Kim Rutherford’s four children, who received the building-block kits from his grandmother regularly as gifts when visiting Colorado.
Rutherford said his family connection to Colorado made his college decision that much easier. Rutherford’s aunts, uncles and both sets of grandparents live there, many just 15 to 20 minutes from Golden.
“I went to their football camp this summer,” he said. “I went on a trip out there – I think it was September or October – and then I always go up there during the summer. I got to see a lot of Golden, even when I wasn’t considering it as a school.”
Rutherford was less familiar with the position of tight end, but flourished there during the second half of his senior season.
A wide receiver throughout his career, Rutherford moved inside during the last five or six games for Harrisonburg, Thurman said, to help facilitate a schematic shift towards power formations rather than the spread.
The position change was good for Rutherford, a captain who finished with 18 catches for 339 yards and a touchdown, while being counted on to block defensive linemen bigger than him at times. His numbers were good enough for him to be named first team All-Valley District, first team All-Region III and VHSCA All-Group AA honorable mention.
The latter two honors surprised him.
Somewhat desperate for offensive weapons, Thurman and the HHS coaches wasted no time finding ways to get Rutherford involved beyond blocking. A chunk of Rutherford’s yardage and his score came on two instances of a double pass. In a win against Waynesboro, the play worked to perfection as fill-in quarterback Matt Shifflett threw the ball to Kasaan Fields, who then fired a touchdown pass from behind the line of scrimmage to a streaking Rutherford.
“Hayden was the guy who really made the big change for us, moving down from receiver to tight end, allowing us to move the ball on offense,” Thurman said. “… I know he got a couple 60-yard receptions when he leaked out from tight end.”
“He was probably as valuable on defense as he was on offense,” assistant coach Jay Hook said of Rutherford, a hybrid safety/linebacker who was called on to defend speedy receivers and supply run support.
Rutherford was basically Harrisonburg’s jack of all trades – and his versatility on the field and in the classroom is what Thurman believes made him an attractive walk-on prospect for Virginia Military Institute, William & Mary, and Richmond.
Rutherford has already impressed his coaches by mapping out a future that includes starting a career in petroleum engineering and making roughly $60,000 a year out of college, Thurman said.
“When I was his age, I didn’t know what I was going to do this afternoon,” Thurman said. “He’s already got 5 or 6 years of his life mapped out. Just a very bright kid.”
And if Rutherford ever gets weary of engineering?
“He’d make a great football coach some day,” Hook said. “He’d have to take a pay cut though, probably.”