What a Rush: Terry alum goes from unheralded prospect to NFL hopeful

WJTV – On June 17, Terry High School alumnus, former Tulane wide receiver, and now Philadelphia Eagle hopeful Xavier Rush tweeted this:

“That tweet…it is my life,” Rush said. “It is my journey.”

His journey started at Terry High School. He was a three-sport athlete in track, basketball, and of course, football.

“I believed in any sport I played that I could be the best,” Rush said. “I’ll say my junior year was when I really saw my football game kind of separate from the other two sports.”

“He was driven to succeed on and off the field, the court, the track, wherever he was at,” former longtime Terry assistant Monty Wilson said. “He wasn’t the biggest, he wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t the strongest. But he worked harder than anybody.”

“Football messes with your mind,” Rush said. “It’s a thinking man’s game. It makes you disciplined, makes you put everything you’ve learned, everything you’ve practiced, everything you’ve put the work into to put it to work at that one specific moment for several seconds, come back, and do it again and again.”

Rush would come to learn quickly that something else was going to mess with his mind: the recruiting process. Despite Wilson describing Rush having “hands like glue” and rising as a star at Terry, he was having a frustrating time getting the collegiate eyes he wanted.

“It was a downer,” his father Charles Rush said. “We emailed every Division I college in America seven to ten times from November to National Signing Day. We would email so much in the wee hours of the morning until the system would tell us you can no longer email for 24 hours. Most people never get to that point.”

Rush’s father explained how he thought his son dedicating time to improving off of the field as well as on it might have not gotten him in front of enough recruiters from bigger schools.

“His arrival to Division I football was non-traditional because he didn’t go to camps in the summer,” Charles Rush said. “He spent every summer doing internships in high school, Virginia Tech and NASA. He was building a resume as opposed to going to somebody’s camp. He had to work on his own.”

“Education is number one in our household,” Rush’s mother Pamala Heard-Rush said. “Getting exposure, getting chances to see exactly what you want to do in life. So exposing Xavier to different opportunities gave him a chance to just explore and see what other people were doing all over the world.”

Despite how it might have caused more frustration than he wanted with recruiting, Rush is grateful he got to expand his horizons.

“It helped me interact with engineers, helped me interact with lawyers, helped me interact with all genres of people and not just athletes,” Rush said. “I was able to communicate with different people, different situations, and different settings. So I feel like that really helped me a lot. And also it helped me in my mental state too because it taught me how everything correlates in life. The football field correlates to the workplace. The football field correlates to the classroom. The football field correlates to just general life. It’s just a microscopic form of life.”

The struggles in recruiting isn’t to say he didn’t have any offers. He attracted attention from schools like Cornell and Harvard. The former Bulldog had an offer from Vanderbilt before head coach James Franklin’s arrival changed that, as recruiting coordinators cited that according to Rush, he “wasn’t what they were looking for.”

Throughout the whole process, he said he just felt undervalued.

“I was the underrated one,” Rush said. “It was like always trying to grab for attention but I never let that bother me because I know how hard I worked. And I knew if it was in my plan, it was going to happen as long as I put my work in.”

Eventually, college football did happen. Tulane offered him a scholarship, took it back, but finally kept it the next time around.

“Talking to his coaches, they just lauded his work ethic,” Charles Rush said. “They admired his work ethic, the way he absorbed the playbook and that kind of thing. And they couldn’t believe how he flew under-the-radar.”

He’d play 45 games in four seasons for the Green Wave, racking up 99 receptions with 12 touchdowns and averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Rush felt like he was at the peak of his Tulane career during his senior year in 2014.

“The best strength, the fastest I’ve ever been, the most focused I’ve ever been,” Rush said. “And honestly, I could see it. My coaches could see it. My teammates could see that I came in that year with a whole different mindset.”

But with five games left in the season, and three plays to go in a practice two days before a Halloween matchup against Cincinnati, Rush landed awkwardly on a fade route in the back of the end zone.

“One of my good friends, who was the equipment manager, told me he heard it pop and he was at the 20-yard-line,” Rush recalled.

It was his right knee. And that pop was a torn ACL.

“When they told me it was my ACL, all I could think was wow, really?” Rush said. “My senior year, five games left. What am I going to do? Like all the hard work I put in, all the hours, all the determination, the two or three workouts a day, the hell of a year I was having. Everything just went through my mind in that split second and I was like, is it all over?”

As he digested the diagnosis, he called his parents to let them know his college career was over. His mother knew something was wrong the moment he spoke.

“You know your children and how they talk to you,” Pamala Heard-Rush said, tears starting to roll with the recollection. “So it was that voice, I could hear it in him. I could hear and I didn’t want him to think that I was sad. I was trying to make sure that he would stay strong and that Momma would be there.”

His dad felt awful for him and tried to illustrate what it would be like to overcome this obstacle.

“If this is what you want, you can still get it,” Charles Rush said. “But it’s going to take an extreme amount of work. You’re going to have dig in places that you’ve never dug before to pull it out.”

After he absorbed the news for a while, Rush started digging.

“For a couple hours, I thought it was a dream,” Rush said. “But when I came to and realized it was torn, I was like, I know Pro Day is in April. I asked my physical therapist, David, I said, ‘You think we can get my knee to where we can do something at Pro Day?’ He said it depends on you. That’s all he had to tell me.”

“I would talk to the medical staff at Tulane and they said we have never seen anybody that comes for rehab four, five, six times a day,” Charles Rush said. “It was all day, every day.”

Rush rehabbed hard enough to run his forty-yard dash and some routes at Tulane’s Pro Day. But like his high school recruiting experience, he wasn’t getting much NFL attention.

“No free agent calls came in,” Rush said. “No camp invites came in. So just sitting after the draft, for two or three days, I was like dang, my time’s running out. So I’m thinking what’s the next step?”

That next step would be a field both of his parents work in: education. With a neuroscience degree from Tulane, he moved to Helena, Ark. and started as a middle school teacher at Kipp Delta College Preparatory School.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Pamala Heard-Rush said. “Xavier worked with me in several summer programs I had with younger students. And so I thought he had the niche to be a great educator.”

“He has a way of conveying information and sharing information where it can be easily understood,” Charles Rush said.

While still working out to stay in shape for any shot at football, and riding his bike to school, Rush taught the entire fall semester of 2015 and two weeks of January of 2016. He said the opportunity helped him develop as a person.

It matured me a lot,” Rush said. “I had a lot of influence and a lot of power and I tried to use that in a positive manner. Being strict and firm, but also teaching them about life, teaching them about how important education is.”

But his father knew this wasn’t going to fulfill him enough.

“He wasn’t content in the classroom,” Charles Rush said. “He said in December, I’m going to retire from this and work out full-time. It was itching at him and I’m the type of person that if it’s positive, go for it.”

Surely enough, Rush resigned and turned his focus fully to football. He went to Arizona to work out and keep strengthening his knee before going back to New Orleans to work out and be at Tulane’s Pro Day again.

It turned out that he didn’t need to work out at Pro Day. February rolled around and the phone rang.

“My agent told me the Eagles hit him up and said I have a tryout,” Rush said.

“The Eagles, throughout the process, had shown interest in him,” Charles Rush said. “They had even checked on him during his rehab process.”

On what he described as a 29-degree day, Rush went out and performed for the only chance he said he ever needed.

“They were surprised with me being out a short amount of time, not having people on me rehabbing me, me rehabbing myself, and how I performed,” Rush said. “They signed me 10 minutes after the workout was over.” 

“I didn’t know what to say to them,” Rush said. “I was like, thank you and I couldn’t stop smiling.”

A little more than a year after she heard the pain in her son’s voice following the injury that ended his college career, Pamala Heard-Rush found out this news a little differently.

“I remember I was working that night and he was supposed to call me,” Pamala Heard-Rush said laughingly. “But I saw it on an email that somebody sent me. And I was like oh my god and I was so happy. I was trying to call him just to say you should’ve called me first!”

So now, the once unheralded wide receiver from Terry High School is three weeks away from reporting for another journey: trying to become a wideout on the 53-man roster of the Philadelphia Eagles. He understands there’s a chance he gets cut. But thinking like that just really isn’t Xavier Rush.

“A guy came to talk to us at Tulane and said, ‘Who all thinks they’re going to the NFL,'” Rush said. “My hand was the only one raised.”

“You’re not just auditioning for a spot with the Eagles,” Charles Rush said he told his son. “You’re auditioning for all 31 other teams as well. Give it your all because it’s not easy to make a 53-man roster. If hard work has anything to do with it, he’s going to be a contender.”

In Rush’s mind, he’s more than that.

“If I can control what I can control, I feel like the world is mine,” Rush said.

And after fighting through plenty of obstacles, he might not have the world. But he’s very close to something worth having.

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