In every young man’s heart, when he is past being a mere child, but not yet an adult, there is a desire to be something special. Whether that desire revolves around athletics, academics or artistic endeavors, down deep there is a want to excel.
When you pull away the veil of shyness or not-sure-ness, young folks want to be noticed.
At least I did. Boy, I wanted to be noticed, and it was a good thing I had a good imagination, because I wasn’t particularly special at anything. No, no. I take that back: I was a superior daydreamer.
I would daydream of greatness while shoveling snow.
I would daydream of glorious acts of courage while running laps at football practice during the heat of August two-a-day practices.
Football, man, I wanted to be an all-star stud on the old gridiron. Looking back, I can still see some of my greatest moments playing with the pigskin for the Clarkston Wolves high school team. I remember, as a guard, left of center, I pulled to the right, behind center and then cut up to leave a running lane for running back Mark Hughes. I think I forgot to move my feet fast because by the time I got to the spot to cut up and block, some unexpecting linebacker, Mark basically ran up my back for a zero yard gain. I got called to the sidelines after that play.
I remember we linemen practiced on the old gravel infield of the little league baseball diamond. There on the gravel, in the dirt and sweat we bled. I remember laying on the dirt, with dust in my eyes and in my mouth one time and I guess I didn’t get to my feet fast enough. Coach DJ Camp yelled out, “Rush, you beached whale get up – wait, you’re too small to be a beached whale. You’re a beached porpoise. Whatever, get up!”
I remember toward the end of one hot, humid practice, my dad pulled his dark green, 1978 Suburban up to the fence just outside the football field. I don’t know if we had pads on, but for sure we wore our helmets – all day. We were running laps around the football field to end practice. We were whipped. I remember running along daydreaming how each fall of my foot would bring this torture of a practice to an end. I remember watching my feet as each in turn pounded the track.
When I got home, Dad said, “You were running with your head down. Always keep your head up. Keep your head up.”
I think I thought, “Yeah, I love you too, Dad.”
I remember one year when Michigan Hall of Fame Coach Kurt Richardson (KR) was still an assistant varsity coach. After a particularly long, hot August practice some of us players were gassed. Some of us had our hands behind our heads to suck in as much air into our lungs as possible. Some bent over with their hands on their knees, letting their sweat drip to the ground.
Somewhere in our agony I remember KR shouting, “What?! If you’re not puking, you’re not trying hard enough!”
My football prowess did garner me two nicknames. During practice I used to try and reason with Coach Walt Wyniemko (like anyone can reason with a football coach) on why I should block a person “this” way instead of Coach’s way. “Time out, time out! Hey everybody. Listen up. Einstein here thinks he knows more about running a play than me. Everyone, take a lap! What do you think about that, Einstein?”
I was a pretty popular dude back in the day.
The thing I was best at during football was talking enthusiastically with my mouthpiece in while on the sidelines during game days. I was so good at it, I received a special award. At the awards ceremony one year, the coaches all got together and figured out who was the Most Valuable Player (not me), Offensive Player of The Year (not me), Defensive Player (no), Most Improved Player (nope) and the like. Down the line they went calling my teammates, one by one, up to stage to get their trophies. The last name the coaches called was Don Rush. My dad looked at me curiously. I looked at him, shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know, Dad.”
They gave me a navy blue, nylon ball cap with my other nickname on it emblazoned in all caps yellow letters, ASTRO. While the Einstein moniker soon faded, my other nickname Astro remains. Some 40 years later, some players on those football teams still call me Astro.
So, I got that goin’ for me.
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Well, August, 2023 is all but gone. Students from all over the area are donning their pads and pulling on their helmets for the season. They’ve put in lots of time, sweat, logged miles of running, bandaged cuts and wrapped up their ankles. All that effort and pain just for the love of the game and that’s why in nearly every town in America, high school football stadiums are filled with locals. Good luck everyone. Play hard, stay safe and have fun (in between wind sprints).
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