By Andy Sneddon
Reprinted from Centralight Fall 2016
Talent? Check. Smarts? Check. Supportive environment? Willingness to learn? Work ethic? Check, check and check.
CMU quarterback Cooper Rush has it all.
“He’s very self-aware, which I think is a rare quality in this day and age,” says Central Michigan football coach John Bonamego, who has been coaching for some three decades – more than half of it in the NFL. It’s easy to get enamored with yourself and buy into your hype, he says.
“He’s on an ascending path, and he’s been on that path since he walked in the door.
He wants to get better every day.”
Rush, out of Lansing Catholic, is entering his fourth season as the Chippewas’ starter, and he’s one of the all-time best in program history. He ranks second in touchdown passes with 67 and third in passing yards (9,351), passes completed (744) and passing attempts (1,183).
He is one of the Mid-American Conference’s elite and is on both the Maxwell (college football’s top player) and Davey O’Brien (top quarterback) preseason watch lists.
“That stuff’s nice to have,” says Rush, who graduated magna cum laude last spring with a 3.86 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science. He’s continuing classes this fall. “It’s an honor, but when it comes down to it, you just have to go play, and it’s about how your team does. You’ve got to be able to execute for your teammates and your program.”
Rush is the consummate student in the classroom and on the field. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he watched as quarterback Ryan Radcliff rolled up eye-popping numbers.
“I watched every single thing Ryan Radcliff would do,” Rush says. “Redshirt year, a lot of guys get in trouble because they take it off. That’s a mental year, basically. You’re taking mental reps every day, watching film, practicing and constantly just absorbing as much as possible.”
Now Rush is the unquestioned team leader, and it’s a role he embraces as he tries to pass along the same wisdom, particularly to younger quarterbacks.
“I’m not doing it perfectly, but I tell those guys, ‘Watch the guy who’s done it for a little bit’ because that’s what I did, and it helped a lot when I got a chance to play,” he says.
Among those young understudies is incoming freshman Tony Poljan, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound, highly touted recruit – also from Lansing Catholic.
Rush played high school basketball with David Poljan, Tony’s older brother, and Rush’s younger brother graduated with Tony.
The goal, Rush says, is that Tony Poljan, along with all the other young quarterbacks, follows the lead – film study, weight room, preparing each and every day, just as Rush did with Radcliff.
“We’ve known the family well, and we’ve known Tony for a long time,” Rush says.
“I helped him throughout the process with recruiting. I didn’t really pressure him with Central stuff or anything like that. I just said, ‘Come to me if you need some help,’ and we talked about the process in general.”
In the grand scheme of things, it’s about perpetuating the program. From the likes of Dan LeFevour to Radcliff to Rush and beyond.
And beyond CMU for Cooper Rush? Perhaps the NFL, the next logical step for a kid who had one scholarship offer – CMU – coming out of high school and moved into the starting lineup just three games into his redshirt freshman season.
“It’s something Coach Bono talks about, that it’s something everyone should be striving for in the back of their mind,” Rush says. “Because to reach that goal, you’ll reach a bunch of other goals in front of it. I hope that opportunity comes.”
Cooper Rush’s Hail Mary pass vs. Western Kentucky topped ESPN’s list of best plays in the 2014 bowl season.