When the 2016 OFC season kicks off the Hamilton Hurricanes will be looking to get back to the OFC Final having failed to reach the championship game in 2015 after several years of playing in the big game. Leading the charge will be a player whose name is familiar to those who follow CIS Football… John Rush. The 22 year old middle linebacker from Guelph, ON comes to the Hamilton Hurricanes following a stellar CIS career at the University of Guelph where he earned several national accolades in his final season including winning the 2015 President’s Trophy for the CIS Defensive Player of the Year, 1st team All-Canadian as well as 1st Team Academic All Canadian and the 2015 Yates Cup Most Valuable Player. And while Rush’s size (6 foot, 219 lbs) is not overly intimidating on paper, his tenacity and nose for the football is clearly evident as Rush led the entire nation in 2015 in tackles.
Happy with John Rush’s decision to play junior football is his Hamilton Hurricanes head coach Jason Hayes who after only a handful of practices during this summer’s training camp, is already brimming with excitement. “John’s presence has exceeded the staff’s expectations. He is a dynamic player who is willing to take on anything and everything the coaches ask of him…and when practice is done John takes the initiative in leading post-practice conditioning. At first it was just him and then the other players have begun following his example and now there are quite a few players that have joined John’s post practice conditioning ritual. It is really great to see” says Hayes.
Why do the other players follow his example? No doubt it might have something to do with his reputation of playing success at the University of Guelph but maybe it has more to do with the fact that Rush spent time in camp with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “His teammates know what John did at Guelph, they see what he does at practice with us and know he has seen what is required at the professional level and like John, they all aspire to get to the CFL too. So if John is doing something they are going to do it too.”
When told that his coach sees John as a natural leader, Rush is appreciative but is quick to point out that he feels he still needs to prove it on the field. “It is an honour to know that my coaches envision me to play a leadership role on this team but it is still a little bit of a balancing act because I am still learning a new defensive system. I hope I can help out any way that I can both on the field but also on the sidelines.” While Rush has been really impressed with the quality of players at camp with the Hurricanes he feels that one area in particular that he can really help his new teammates is with the mental aspect of the game. “Showing my teammates how to conduct themselves on the sideline during games and how to stay mentally sharp are skills I hope to share with my teammates” says Rush.
Quite often when a player with Rush’s credentials arrive at a new team they come along with a certain ‘diva attitude’ where they expect to start at a given position on offence or defence and while Rush fully expects to start at his familiar linebacker position Rush is certainly no defensive diva. Rush has already asked the coaches to be given an opportunity to earn starting positions on all special teams units. This is because although Rush, like the rest of the Hurricanes, is aiming for an OFC Championship, John is also here to show CFL scouts that he can be a standout on special teams in addition to his obvious ability to play linebacker. Coach Hayes explains, “being such a great linebacker at Guelph probably worked against John to a certain degree last year. Because he was so good and valuable to the Gryphons as a linebacker he was never required to play special teams so the CFL teams had no idea how he could contribute in that area of the game”.
Similar to what Llevi Noel did with the Windsor AKO Fratmen last year, Rush is looking at the 2016 season as a way to showcase all of his skills and show the CFL teams that he can be a valuable contributor in many ways. Noel, an explosive wide receiver at the CIS level for two years came to the Fratmen in 2015 and became an All-Conference wide receiver but also shed his “one trick pony” label by showing CFL teams that he could contribute on all special teams, returning the ball (3 touchdown returns in 8 games) as well as tackling would-be returners on opposing teams. Noel is currently playing in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts.
So while John Rush is committed to helping bring a championship to Hamilton this year make no mistake…his goal is to be playing in the CFL in 2017. Playing for the Hurricanes at Tim Hortons Field, which is also were the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL play home games, should provide Rush with the exposure he is looking for with at least one CFL team and given what is surely to be a highlight real season, likely many other CFL teams will be taking notice too.