August 24, 2011

Cowboys' Rush, family lay it on the line

On the surface the relationship between Oklahoma State senior guard Jonathan Rush and his father isn't atypical.

David Rush loves his youngest son. Jonathan idolizes his dad. They share a common love of sports, particularly football. David is incredibly proud, as any dad would be. He eagerly looks forward to watching Oklahoma State games. Afterward, he can't wait to discuss them with Jonathan.

"When I watch him play I'm in awe to see the way he protects his quarterback or when he pulls and lead-blocks for the running back," David writes via email. "It is awesome to see him come out of the locker room and the fans are outside waiting. The little kids go up to him and ask him to sign something, and he will pick them up while their parents take photos.

"When I see these things, I just stand back and say, 'That's my son.' How much prouder can you get?"

Yet, David Rush rarely sees Jonathan interact with fans. He has to watch almost all of Oklahoma State's games on satellite feeds. He has to relive the action through emails, Facebook messages and phone calls. Although those suffice, it would be so much nicer to add a postgame hug.

But no father's arms, no matter how long they might be, can extend from Baghdad to Stillwater, Okla.

Jonathan Rush is one of five returning starters along Oklahoma State's offensive line, which paves the way for one of the nation's best offenses. This fall, he has a shot at All-Big 12 honors after a breakthrough season in 2010 in which recorded a series of highlight-reel blocks and helped the Cowboys to an 11-2 finish. Jonathan gave the ring he received to commemorate finishing tied for first in the Big 12 South to David as a Father's Day gift.

"If we can win the Big 12, I can give him that ring to replace the South Division ring I gave him this year," Jonathan says.

This season, the Cowboys are under pressure to improve on that performance and perhaps win their first conference championship since sharing the Big Eight title in 1976. Of course, there always is the fear that the chemistry won't be the same or that an injury to a key player could render the season a disappointment.

But Jonathan feels no pressure or fear. Hey, not even the most raucous football stadiums are a war zone. Why fear the outcome of a game when your father and brother put their lives on the line on a daily basis?

Jonathan's father is a civilian working for the State Department as a logistic security specialist in Iraq. Jonathan's older brother, Justin, is in the Army and currently serving a fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Any angst Jonathan feels is reserved for them, although he insists he doesn't spend too much time worrying.

"If I worried all day, I would stay stressed out," Jonathan says. "I got to the point where I could not think about it. But not a day goes by that I don't think about them. You take it and view the situation like it is. There is nothing I can change about it, but it's not doing too much good to worry about it.

"Whenever the decision was made that he was going to Iraq or Afghanistan, it sucked. It was a sobering moment. I asked, 'Why do you have to go?' He sat me down and told me something needed to happen because there had been cutbacks. My dad may be really proud of me, but I'm proud of him for the things he's done for my family.'
- Jonathan Rush,
about his father, David
"I use football more of a way to keep my mind off the fact that I have relatives overseas and bad things could happen to them. But my dad is a tough sucker. I feel if something goes wrong, he can suck it up and handle it."

David Rush was a high school running back in Navasota, Texas, a small town just a few minutes south of College Station. Any hope he had for a college scholarship disappeared when he injured his knee during his senior season. Instead, he joined the Army, got married and raised seven children.

He was a Sergeant First Class during Operation Desert Storm, then retired from the Army in 1991 when Jonathan was 2. The family still lived near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and he planned to live a normal civilian lifestyle.

But the sagging economy eventually entered the picture. David's daughter, Jearlyn, was in high school and soon would be going off to college. Jonathan was a sophomore at Killeen High. And even though Jonathan was 6 feet 4 and weighed more than 240 pounds, David knew from his own experiences that a college scholarship cannot be taken for granted.

Needing to provide for his family and put two more children through college, David made the decision to accept an offer of a well-paying job with a private firm in Iraq.

"Whenever the decision was made that he was going to Iraq or Afghanistan, it sucked. It was a sobering moment," Jonathan recalls. "I asked, 'Why do you have to go?' He sat me down and told me something needed to happen because there had been cutbacks.

"My dad may be really proud of me, but I'm proud of him for the things he's done for my family. He made the decision to go to Iraq to put my sister through college and pay the bills. That's a big commitment. He loves football -- we're from Texas -- and when your son is getting recruited to play Division I but you can't watch his last couple of seasons, that's a big thing."

Oklahoma State's top-10 preseason ranking also is a big thing -- for the Cowboys in general and the Rushes in particular. Highly ranked teams generally make more TV appearances.

"I'm glad, especially now, that Oklahoma State is better because we have more games on TV," Jonathan says. "That's the biggest incentive I have for our team to be good -- so our games will be on TV and he will have something to watch."

David always is watching.

"Some of his games are televised over here," David writes via email. "They usually come on at 3 or 4 in the morning and you best believe that I am up watching it. I am his No. 1 fan, although his mother will say that's a toss-up."

Afterward, David is eager to discuss the games on the phone or through email, and recently has made contact through social media, much to Jonathan's amusement.

"It's funny. My dad actually just got on Facebook," Jonathan says. "It's not like he's the most expert person with technology. He's from the backwoods -- Navasota, Texas. But he goes on and writes on my wall. During the season, it's just ridiculous. It makes me smile."

Jonathan also smiles at the thought that his dad should be coming home soon. Jearlyn just earned her master's degree from Prairie View A&M. Meanwhile, Jonathan will graduate with a degree in sociology next spring, if not sooner.

He might even get a chance to play professionally.

"We'll see if I can get into the league," Jonathan says. "Then I can pay his bills."

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for He can be reached at, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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