Ken Ruettgers brings intensity and commitment to his many endeavors. photo by Jerry Baldock
Ken Ruettgers brings intensity and commitment to his many endeavors. photo by Jerry Baldock

Sisters resident Ken Ruettgers has been called a lot of things - with great respect - over the years: NFL first-round draft pick, offensive MVP for the Green Bay Packers (1989), husband, father, author, mentor, coach.

Now add to that both "doctor" and "professor," as a new fall crop of students at Central Oregon Community College (COCC) took their seats in Ruettgers' sociology classroom last week.

As Ruettgers embarks on his second year of teaching at COCC, he and his students will examine "Society and Sport," "Society and Religion," "Race, Class and Gender" and "Deviant Behavior" in various course offerings.

"I most like to challenge my students and their thinking and thought process, while bringing in contemporary issues," Ruettgers said. "I also want to teach 'Politics in Society.'"

Ruettgers brings to his new career the same intensity that culminated in a 1996 Super Bowl win for his Packer team.

Still a commanding presence (the NFL listed him at 6-feet-6-inches and 295 pounds), the ambitious Bakersfield, California native posted a stellar career at USC, blocking for Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen and earning a spot on the 1984 All Pac-10 Conference Team. In 1985, Ruettgers was drafted by Green Bay in the seventh pick of the first round. He went on to chalk up 156 games played over 12 seasons before injuries led to his retirement.

"My football career was all about me - a self focus - and it needed to be," he told The Nugget. "That's in large part what I was paid to do: be the best football player 'me' as I could be. My activities now are more about being excellent in order that others may benefit from my efforts."

One of those activities was the recent completion of his PhD in sociology from Oxford Graduate School, adding to a BA from USC in business administration and an MBA from California State University at Bakersfield.

"I wanted a formal study regarding Sport Career Transition and ended up doing my dissertation on 'Career Transition Barriers of Recently Retired NFL Players,'" he said.

Ruettgers has a passion to help other retiring pro athletes transition into healthy, normal lives outside of the spotlight. Through GamesOver.org, a non-profit group he founded, Ruettgers provides free resources and facilitates counseling for retiring athletes and their families.

On the Web site, Ruettgers has posted: "The biggest factor in your transition is you ... You choose action or stagnation. No matter where you are in the process - it's never too late to make good decisions that will change your future - for the better."

Ruettgers is currently working on a new book, "Life Beyond the Game."

"And I have a workbook we're getting ready to post online for free: 'Success Beyond the Game.' I want to make these resources available to transitioning athletes, and be available (to them)," he says.

It will be the second book Ruettgers has authored. In his first, "Home Field Advantage" (1995, Multnomah Publishing), he issues a call to fathers to be strong role models for their kids.

Ruettgers' influence in his own family is clear: all three of his children - as well as wife Sheryl - are following his lead, pursuing college degrees. Ruettgers jests that while his entire family is in school this fall, "I'm the only one making money at it."

All three of Ruettgers' kids graduated from Sisters High School. Twenty-two-year-old son Matt studies environmental management at Columbia River College; Katherine, 20, is working toward a liberal arts degree at Gutenburg College in Eugene.

And this month also marked their youngest child's departure from home. Eighteen-year-old Susan is settling in at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, studying biology education while playing basketball on scholarship.

Despite his newly emptied nest, Ruettgers took his usual place coaching football for the Sisters High School Outlaws again this year. In his 12 years volunteering as an assistant coach and acting as offensive and defensive line coach, the Outlaws have traveled to four state championship games, where they've won two and lost two.

But it's not the win-loss ratio that motivates Ruettgers to coach area youth.

"I got my start in high school football coaching in Green Bay, at West DePere High School, when a neighbor, Bill Turnquist - the head football coach and athletic director - invited me to coach with him," Ruettgers said. "I was hesitant about coaching, but liked and trusted Bill enough to give it a shot and fell in love with coaching high school athletes ... challenging them to embrace transferrable life skills that will help bring them success in the future through the medium of football."

Nate Emberton, a 2008 SHS graduate who earned all-league honors as a middle-linebacker with the Outlaws, credits Ruettgers with doing just that.

"Ken Ruettgers is the most outstanding man in the whole Sisters area," says Emberton. "In football, he always used the quote 'A.C.E.' which means Attitude, Concentration and Effort. Every day after practice he would ask, 'How was your ACE?' He gave his time and dedication to coaching us kids and he did a fine job."

Even before Emberton suited up for his very first varsity game, he remembers an encounter with Ruettgers that began to shape his character:

"I had my first experience with Ken outside of football practice at Wild Horse Canyon (a youth camp in Northeastern Oregon), with Young Life. Ken was my cabin leader, and Ken helped me to understand that making trouble wasn't always the way. He helped me to mature."

Ken and Sheryl Ruettgers have ministered to area teens through Sisters Young Life for many years.

Ruettgers has also helped coach the SHS track team, and in addition he adds his energy to local athletic associations including the Sisters Sports Mentoring Alliance (SSMA).

Quay Richerson co-founded the SSMA with Ruettgers and has coached alongside him for numerous seasons.

Says Richerson, "Ken is about excellence. Whether in his faith, family, teaching or coaching, he has the will and discipline to get the most from his talents. Our community is fortunate to have people like Ken, who make themselves available to positively impact others by using gifts in which they have been blessed."

When asked which career season has brought him the most satisfaction, Ruettgers is reflective.

"I suppose both seasons of life - football and what I'm doing now - similarly provide fulfillment, but in different ways. Football was more intense and extreme as the highs were higher and the lows were lower."

Looking forward, he sees himself "continuing to teach at COCC, honing my skills as a teacher, coaching football, enjoying my adult relationships with my kids."

Rounding out Ruettgers' future game plan is spending quality time with Sheryl and traveling. The couple will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in January.