Behind The Scenes With Gator Alum & ESPN Host Laura Rutledge

It's Saturday morning at the University of Florida. Tailgate tents are arranged along every inch of campus grass, the aroma of burgers is already wafting through the air at 10 am, and Century Tower bells chime at the top of the hour. If you're unfamiliar with football (or if you've just been living under a rock) — welcome to game day at UF.

On the Plaza of the Americas, mobs of orange and blue have gathered to watch the taping of SEC Nation, ESPN's weekly pregame special that makes pit stops at SEC campuses for a morning of college football talk and analysis (and tons of fan hype). For SEC Nation host Laura Rutledge, this scene is business as usual — especially considering she's back where her career began.

Rutledge, who graduated from UF in 2011 with a degree in telecommunication, is inspiring the next generation of female sports storytellers with her success as a sports journalist and traveling ESPN host. 

Rutledge spearheaded her career in sports media while she was a student at UF and in College of Journalism and Communications. She learned the basics of storytelling and took many of the classes current journalism and communications students are likely in now — and found her place in the industry covering all things Gator athletics for radio and TV. Less than ten years after she turned the tassel at UF, her incredible career path makes her a role model for college women, especially those who are passionate about sports media. Keep reading to discover some of her favorite UF memories and advice for college women with similar goals!

Rutledge with her SEC Nation co-hosts Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears and Tim Tebow (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Her Campus UFL (HC UFL): How did you stay positive as you were working your way up in the sports media industry?

Laura Rutledge (LR): "I think the biggest thing is to find people to surround yourself with who will lift you up. Whether it's your family, really good friends — just find people who are going to be that inner circle who will help you, because it does get discouraging, especially at the point where you might be looking for your big break or doubting yourself, and you can't sit there and rely on yourself to pull yourself up by your bootstraps all the time. Looking back at kind of the low points, and I still have them, if I didn't have some of my really close friends, my mom, my husband — there's no way I would be where I am now."

HC UFL: What's your biggest piece of advice for 20-somethings with similar aspirations?

LR: "Be patient with yourself. I was way too hard on myself early on in my career and even when I was here at Florida. I was trying to do everything — and sure, it's beneficial to get a ton of experience, but I put a ton of pressure on myself to immediately have success. I've realized it's a really tough business and it's tough to find your way into the industry right away, so I think younger girls should know there is more time than you think to make it happen. Also, try different things in college. When I was here at UF, I actually only focused on radio for the longest time starting out, and I think that's helped me with TV more than anything else. So be creative about your opportunities and just don't lose faith in yourself. Be as patient as you need to be with yourself."

HC UFL: How do you separate your personal life and your career — when your career inherently puts you in the spotlight?

LR: "It's all about finding time to unplug. My husband and I FaceTime a lot during the week and stay in touch that way, and then when I'm home and with my family, I'm all in with them and am trying to block everything else out. And I don't always follow my own advice. I'm trying to be better with that. But I think it's key to find that balance, or to get as close to it as you can."

HC UFL: What is your favorite local Gainesville spot and part about being back at UF?

LR: "I love all the coffee shops, and I could go on for days about that. But I do love Dragonfly Sushi — it's so, so good. Honestly, just driving around, the city has changed so much — but it still has that same feel. I'm very proud to be a Gator, I'm proud to be back here whenever I am here, and I'm proud to talk about it whenever I'm not here."

Behind-the-scenes snapshots from SEC Nation — it's amazing how many details, cameras, cords and pieces of equipment contribute to this two-hour special. 

Our conversation with Laura Rutledge and day spent soaking in the fast-paced, high-energy backstage environment at SEC Nation was nothing short of inspiring. No matter your career goals, remember Rutledge's advice to take hold of the opportunities you have while in college — you never know where those experiences will lead you.