The Gophers’ 23-13 win over Wisconsin at Huntington Bank Stadium last November will be a lasting memory for players and fans alike.
For defensive end Thomas Rush, it will remain an indelible moment.
It’s something on top of seizing Paul Bunyan’s Axe, fans storming the field and everyone exalting and dancing to the Badgers’ anthem “Jump Around.”
Rush was in the middle of it all and then worked for awhile among the masses to find his parents, T.R. and Lana Rush. They rendezvoused and took joyous pictures.
Two weeks later, T.R. Rush died unexpectedly at the age of 51.
“Happy to think that was one of the last moments, let alone an amazing moment, to have with him before he passed away,” Rush reflected during the Gophers’ media day on Wednesday.
T.R. Rush was born in Columbus, Ohio, and earned a computer science degree from Ohio State in the early 1990s; he became a diehard Buckeyes fan and passed it on to his children in their home of Marysville, Ohio. But when Thomas became a Gopher in 2018, T.R.’s allegiance shifted immediately.
We were “scarlet and gray growing up, but when I came here, it was an immediate shift to maroon and gold,” Thomas said. “No hesitation for him.”
T.R.’s passion for college football has Thomas thinking about how he will enter his fifth season at Minnesota.
“Thinking about my dad and the dedication that he had in helping me get to where I’m at,” Thomas shared. “… I think about what am I going to do, the amount of effort, energy, all that stuff. What am I going to put into it? You know, to continue that and not let what he wanted from me go to waste.”
Last season, Boye Mafe had seven sacks before he was selected 40th in the NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks in April. Rush was second on the team with 5 1/2 sacks.
Rush started to blossom after a position change from linebacker to rush end before the 2020 season. It took awhile for the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder to adjust.
While Mafe possesses freak athleticism, Rush has to be more exacting in his movements. As Rush has learned the position, he no longer has to be as deliberate.
“Having Boye there with me, someone to continue to look to and get better with and compete with, really helped me learn it and expedite that process of learning it,” Rush said. “He was a big, big help to me, a big mentor to me.”
Quarterback Tanner Morgan — whose father, Ted, passed away a year ago Tuesday — has tried to be there for Thomas.
“Having somebody who’s been through it,” Morgan shared Wednesday. “It’s always a great asset and a great help; I’ve felt that in my kind of battles and struggles. … You don’t have to be OK. You don’t have to feel like you’re alright and feel like you’ve got it all figured out.
“Looking back, at the beginning of it, I was ready to just get back to ball. I think there were moments where it was really hard for me. I probably just buried that stuff. Just keep pressing on, keep pressing on. The athletic traits you have.”
But, Morgan added, “Don’t harbor in you feelings (and) try not to think about it. It will come back and hit you at some point. …We go though challenges in life to help other people, not just ourselves.”