It is hard to miss George Rushing Jr. on the sidelines or in the stands at Salpointe’s football games, a towering 6-foot-4 presence as a former Florida Gators tight end.
He is in his first year as the Lancers’ director of football operations, a position that helps him remain close to his sons Cruz and Elijah while they practice and play games for the Lancers.
Like family, like football life.
At home, George helps his wife Trisha handle the Rushing’s operations, including managing a systematic way for their kids to guide each other.
“Having a big family is one of those things where we kind of assign a big boy to a little kid, like a mentor,” said Trisha, who has worked as an energy trader and is now an analyst with Tucson Electric Power.
Elijah, a sophomore, is paired with his 10-year-old sister Michelle, a budding track athlete, while Cruz, a senior, is matched with 12-year-old future star receiver David — who goes by the nickname of Agent Zero because he wears the No. 0 on his Tucson Scorpions youth football uniform.
“We run a tight ship; we’ve got to,” Trisha said with a laugh when talking about the mentorships.
George mentioned, “You don’t move a big group like that without organizing.”
Oldest sister Mia is far enough along at 23 to be an inspiration to everyone in the household. She is a YouTuber who has more than 4,000 subscribers to her “Movies with Mia” channel in which she is a critic of old-time movies in a comical way.
George’s oldest son George III, born from a previous relationship, played wide receiver at Wisconsin after becoming a blue-chip recruit out of Miami like his father.
Elijah, a high-profile defensive end, said he finally got into football at age 11 partly because of George III being an NCAA Division I receiver.
“That was one of the motivations and (football) was really popular in my middle school,” said Elijah, who is 6-foot-5. “It’s just something I wanted to try out. I tried basketball and I really didn’t like that. I tried something new and I just fell in love with the game.”
The love for football and sports in the Rushing family starts with George, but Trisha, who calls herself a “drama geek,” played the most significant role in the family’s development.
If it weren’t for her, George would long be back in Miami living a different life, and Tucson would be void of one of the most athletic families to compete here.
George met Trisha almost 20 years ago when he was studying for his PhD in teaching and teacher education at Arizona and she was going for her master’s degree in business administration global management.
He arrived in Tucson from South Korea as part of the Army’s Green to Gold Active Duty Option Program, a two-year program that provides eligible, active duty enlisted soldiers an opportunity to complete a two-year graduate degree and earn a commission as an Army officer.
“We met each other. We got engaged after four weeks. We married after four months,” George said with a smile about the start of his relationship with Trisha.
“I was going back to Florida when I met here. I tried the Tucson experience. I was here all alone. Then I met her.”
His relationship with the city also prospered.
“I fell in love with Tucson because as I got to know it, it wasn’t too big city, it wasn’t too small town. I had no aspirations to stay in the big city like Miami.”
George, now the director of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, was raised in Miami and became a star tight end at American Senior High School. After playing with the Patriots, he decided to leave the Miami area because it “would have felt like I would be in the 13th grade there — I needed to get away.”
He was also recruited by Jimmy Johnson at Miami but Johnson left to the Dallas Cowboys, and Dennis Erickson — an “unknown coach at the time,” George said — took over, further making his decision to leave to Florida an easier one.
He signed with Steve Spurrier in 1990 and played with the Gators through the 1993 season.
He recalls the most the much-publicized rivalry games with Florida State and the 1992 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame when the Gators were 10-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation heading into the game.
“Jerome Bettis gave two of our players concussions when they tried to tackle him,” said George, whose Gators lost 39-28.
George had injury problems toward the end of his career at Florida, and he opted to go into the military after college. That decision ultimately led him to Tucson via the Green to Gold program.
Having played high school football in talent-rich Florida and competing on college football’s grand stage with Spurrier and the Gators, George can offer his sons some sage advice about what they are heading into with their recruitment and future college careers.
Elijah has already been offered a scholarship by Arizona, ASU, Washington and Utah and has visited Notre Dame along with fellow Salpointe Class of 2024 lineman Luis Cordova.
Cruz, a safety, has preferred walk-on offers from Arizona and ASU — a smart move by Jedd Fisch and Herm Edwards because it is very likely that where Cruz goes, Elijah will come along.
“That’s a strong possibility,” George said with his familiar hearty laugh. “We would love for the two of them to play together, yes.”
Cruz and Elijah have blossomed in recent years in their own way under coach Eric Rogers at Salpointe.
Cruz, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, has evolved into one of Salpointe’s top defenders heading into the Lancers’ 5A state semifinal game with Desert Edge on Friday night at Ed Doherty Stadium. He is Salpointe’s third-leading tackler with 60, including one in which he showed his elite speed by tracking down a Mica Mountain breakaway runner after Cruz was about 20 yards behind him.
Elijah is the team’s second-leading tackler with 67, trailing only senior linebacker Joey Sumlin, son of former Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin. Joey, a senior, has 76 tackles.
Elijah leads the Lancers (10-2) with 7.5 sacks despite not being fully developed and only four years into his playing career since playing for George with the Sahuarita 49ers beginning at age 11. He has somewhat of a wiry build presently at 6-5 and 220 pounds.
Arizona’s legendary distance thrower Carla Garrett, Salpointe’s strength and conditioning coach, aims to have Elijah at 245 pounds by next season.
“I’m going to be with Coach Garrett this whole offseason just getting bigger, getting the right size and getting the right supplements and work on what I need to work on to be a top prospect,” Elijah said.
We were rotating to a cover 3 when I saw the quarterback looking behind me. All I was thinking was he better not score. They DID NOT SCORE! 56-5 @bangulo @JordyHamm @GametimeRC pic.twitter.com/XLQyoOMNhD
— Cruz Rushing (@CruzRushing2022) October 25, 2021
Cruz might be designated as David’s mentor within the Rushing household but he certainly is another coach for Elijah on the field.
That’s not to say Elijah needs constant direction. He is serious about his academics (4.0 GPA) and about his football career. He looks driven just by his appearance.
“His development already before coming to high school, he was already on the right track,” Cruz said. ” He was keeping himself busy. He was working as hard as he could every day during the summer training. He was keeping accountable for himself, developing good habits for when he gets into high school.
“He can be a lot further along than his peers, his class, and he can make what he’s doing right now becoming the athlete that he is and being a top talent.”
A significant reason for their success is how George and Trisha raised them in their structured household enhanced by George’s military background. That rigid model was balanced by George and Trisha being understanding of their children’s wants and needs.
They did not push football on Elijah at a young age, for example, with him not starting until he was 11.
“Their work ethic is what I love the most,” George said of his sons. “The fact that they’re not shy, and they put their foot to the grindstone and make it happen is what pleases us. For Elijah, things have just come to him naturally. He is naturally a smart kid, always been in honors, a 4.0 student.
“He learned from his older brother to be a grinder because for Cruz, it took him a while for things to come on the football field. He always had to work harder. That pushed Elijah, who was just kind of coasting, to say, ‘Hey, this is the standard and we’ll follow it.'”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District