Darius Rush is getting ready for his South Carolina football career, and not just between the lines.
Yes the C.E. Murray High School star is working on his craft at wide receiver, transitioning to a new offensive that should better highlight his skills. He also goes up to North Carolina to work on speed and agility drills with a trainer.
But the 6-foot-2 receiver is doing more. He’s already on track to graduate and enroll early, but in June he was also in courses at a local community college.
“Taking classes right now,” Rush said. “I won’t have to go to Carolina with a full load on me, so going ahead and getting the technical, small classes out of the way, it’ll be easier on me my freshman year.”
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That approach impressed his new coach, Chad Wilkes, almost instantly, as the inherited top talent got ready to take on a new sort of challenge.
“The first impression was, off the football field, how good of a kid he is and how good his support system is, with his mom and his brother,” Wilkes said. “That was the first thing. Great kid, and you can see why.
“In talking to him before we ever got out on the field, I knew that we would be able to do a lot of stuff with him on the field because of how smart he is.”
As Rush looked toward his senior season, which started last weekend, he got a chance for something new, possibly an answer to the age-old problem of a top talent in a small school.
Simply put, throwing the ball in high school isn’t easy. Players who throw well consistently are hard to find, as are players who catch it consistently. Pass blocking is worlds harder than run blocking, and as a result, it’s much easier to snap, hand or pitch a ball to a team’s best athlete and let him go to work.
With former coach Brian Smith running things, that was the plan. The War Eagles ran five and a half times for every pass the past two seasons, running up a 19-5 record. Rush only had 14 receptions as a junior, often playing quarterback so he could run the option or bootleg and torment Class A defenders in space.
That changes with Wilkes’ arrival. They aim to spread things out, create more space. And Rush could thrive there.
“He’s so versatile,” Wilkes said. “We’ll be able to use him in so many different ways. He can run, he can catch, he can throw, which people might not know a lot about. He can literally do it all. He can kick. So he’s just that kind of player. And I’m just excited about being able to use him. He can open up everything for everybody else.”
It likely means Rush will be a slot receiver, closer to the quarterback, working over the middle and being a top target on run-pass option plays. Not that he won’t also dabble in former positions such as safety, punter and kicker, while occasionally taking direct snaps.
“It’s giving me opportunities now to perfect my craft playing at the wide receiver position,” Rush said. “Because before, at one point, I was just quarterback, and I would just be pretty much a running back. But now, with the new scheme that we have, I’m able to perfect my craft
“Now that I’ve grown and matured and my ability has grown, I will be able to get my ability at wide receiver better and be able to go to the next level and perform well.”
Last season, Rush caught 14 balls for 228 yards and ran for 622 and 12 touchdowns on 7.7 per carry. A year prior, he ran for 462, threw for 227 and averaged 33 yards a reception.
Another goal he’s set for the coming semester and going into his first year of college was getting stronger. At his height, he’s still skinny, and while he’s got explosiveness (he won last year’s Class A triple jump state title, was third in long jump and fifth in high jump), he could use more lower body strength.
Wilkes credited Gamecocks defensive line coach Lance Thompson for suggesting some ways to supplement the weight program at C.E. Murray.
Rush had been waiting for the USC offer. He has family ties, and family’s a big thing for him. His mother works at the school as a curriculum specialist and athletic team assistant who’s been recognized for what she’s done for many students at the school.
He’ll soon not see her every day, but will join a different family of sorts.
“I grew up a Gamecock,” Rush said. “Family went there. Brother went there. So it’s pretty much been a line of Gamecocks alumni that came out of there. And I grew up with Carolina fans. I’m glad I got the offer there.”