Arizona Football

Salpointe high-profile defensive end Elijah Rushing will play for hometown Arizona Wildcats

Elijah Rushing can have an immediate impact on Arizona coach Jedd Fisch’s program after completing his senior season with Salpointe this fall (Elijah Rushing Instagram photo)

Salpointe edge rusher Elijah Rushing, sought by more than 35 Power 5 programs during the recruiting process, narrowed his selection to four schools last week before making his final choice known Thursday.

And the winner for Rushing’s services is … the hometown Arizona Wildcats, who according to 247Sports have never recruited anyone better.

Rushing, 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, chose Arizona over Oregon, Tennessee and Notre Dame — all of which he visited officially on recruiting trips.

Rushing said during a press conference at Salpointe’s Stevens Strength & Conditioning Center that the decision was based on staying close to family, playing with his brother Cruz (a freshman defensive back at Arizona), contributing to the Wildcats’ ascension under third-year coach Jedd Fisch and carrying the banner for Southern Arizona football talent.

“I feel like this city and this state doesn’t get the recognition it needs to and deserves, especially South Arizona,” Rushing said.

“There are a lot of people who downplay it, down-talk it, and I guess for me it was important to show the opportunity, to put us on the map and let us represent who we are (and) show everyone what Arizona has to offer.”

Rushing is one of the top local modern-era recruits to stay home and play for Arizona with the list including Tucson High defensive lineman Mike Dawson, Sahuaro offensive tackle Mike Ciasca, San Manuel offensive tackle Warner Smith, Amphi running back Michael Bates, CDO running back Ka’Deem Carey, Palo Verde safety Adam Hall, Santa Rita quarterback Anthony Sanders and Salpointe receiver/defensive back Cam Denson, to name a few.

The commitment of Rushing and Salpointe teammate Keona Wilhite, also a defensive end, bucks the trend of elite recruits leaving Tucson for another college. Salpointe’s trio of Bijan Robinson (Texas), Lathan Ransom (Ohio State) and Bruno Fina (UCLA) went elsewhere after concluding their high school careers in 2019.

Cruz Rushing, a Class of 2021 defensive back prospect out of Salpointe, is in his first year in Fisch’s program after transferring from Florida.

“This is something we’ve talked about for months,” Cruz said of his brother’s commitment. “We’ve always talked to each other, had each other’s back. Throughout this whole process, the same conversation came up about playing college football together, playing at the collegiate level … just being able to do this is like a dream come true.”

Their father George Rushing is a former Florida tight end who played for the Gators under coach Steve Spurrier from 1990-93.

Fisch has credited Spurrier for his desire to get into coaching when he was a graduate assistant during Spurrier’s tenure at Gainesville, Fla.

George Rushing, the director of football operations at Salpointe, was in attendance at the press conference along with his wife Trisha, oldest daughter Mia, younger son David and youngest child Michelle.

All of their children shine in their own way.

Mia is a YouTuber who has more than 13,000 subscribers to her “Movies with Mia” channel in which she is a critic of old-time movies in a comical way. David is a freshman wide receiver/defensive back at Salpointe (called “Agent Zero” after wearing the number 0 on his Tucson Scorpions jersey), and Michelle is a budding track and field standout who will compete in a regional Junior Olympics meet this weekend in Albuquerque.

The elder Rushing knows all about the recruiting process from his days growing up in Miami. He was 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, making his decision to sign with Spurrier at Florida an easier one.

“I’m just so happy that we came to the finality of this and Elijah’s happy and we’re happy,” said George, who is also the director of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. “I think what it all came down to is just hearing from our everyday neighbor of what it would mean for us to stay home and the impact he could have, not just on the program but on the city, encouraging others that they can stand out, too.”

George met Trisha almost 20 years ago in Tucson 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.

Before meeting Trisha, he planned to return to live in Miami. After they met, they became engaged only a month later and were married four months after that.

That fateful meeting and their prosperity as a couple and parenting of their children into a cohesive family led to Elijah ultimately choosing to play for Arizona.

“I feel fantastic,” Trisha, an energy trader and analyst with Tucson Electric Power, said of Elijah’s commitment. “This decision was a culmination of weeks and months. We took so many visits and met so many amazing coaching staffs. We’ve been to so many beautiful campuses. I mean, this was not an easy decision.

“We talked about it and went back-and-forth for weeks, but all roads pointed to the Arizona Wildcats. You know that we’re a very close-knit family. The opportunity to play with Cruz was a big factor, and Elijah really has a pull on his heart to stay home and to build something here in the city.”

Elijah Rushing is rated a five-star recruit by 247Sports. Rivals currently rates him as a four-star prospect.

247Sports also ranks him the No. 27 player nationally, the No. 3 edge rusher and the No. 1 recruit in Arizona in the Class of 2024.

“Unique body type with excellent length and growth potential,” 247Sports recruiting expert Chris Singletary noted on Elijah Rushing on last week. “Pushing close to 6-foot-6 and 250 you have a prospect with the mold, frame and physical traits that are off the charts. He has playmaking ability from the edge or the interior of the defensive line.

“Off the edge, he displays very nice bend, twitch and bursts off the ball as a pass rusher. Even though he is a longer athlete he plays with a good pad level and is able to dip and rip around the corner. Also, show the ability to drop his weight and redirect in chase mode on plays away from him.”

Singletary adds that Rushing projects as a “multi-year starter” in college.


Career defensive stats of Salpointe senior defensive end Elijah Rushing.

George Rushing was asked about what it means for his son to be rated one of the best recruits historically to sign with Arizona, locally or nationally. 247Sports rates Elijah Rushing ahead of receiver Tetairoa McMillan, a five-star Class of 2021 recruit out of Servite (Calif.), as the top recruit in program history.

“We don’t put a lot of stock in that, but we look at it as a door opener,” George said of the lofty ranking. “We can now leverage that to go get some other kids. There’s some other kids who are very interested in coming and we plan to go after those kids. … There’s a big fish here in Arizona that you guys don’t know about yet. The domino may fall.”

Elijah Rushing’s commitment to Arizona comes less than a month after Wilhite pledged to play for Fisch’s program.

Wilhite committed to Arizona over Pac-12 schools UCLA, Washington, Oregon State and ASU. He was also recruited by BYU, Colorado and Nebraska, among others.

“I’m ecstatic, really; happy, really happy,” Wilhite said of Rushing’s commitment. “I’ll have my bro on the other side of me. I’m still speechless right now. It’s amazing.

“He’s like family at this point, really. We train together. Now when we’re in the weight room, we’ll use hand signals instead of talking. We’re really close.”

Salpointe high-profile offensive and defensive tackle Luis Cordova also has a scholarship offer from Arizona.

Salpointe coach Eric Rogers was at the press conference along with some of his staff, including strength and conditioning coach Carla Garrett, a major influence on the physical and mental development of Elijah Rushing and Wilhite.

Rogers and his staff annually produce multiple players who move on to play at the college level.

Having a high-profile recruit such as Elijah Rushing make headline news benefits the notoriety of his program, but Rogers is just as proud of the many players he has coached to the NAIA, NCAA Division 2 and 3 and junior college levels.

“It’s special,” Rogers said. “Anytime you can get a kid to have his education paid for, that’s kind of why I do what I do. It’s a special moment for the family. It’s a special moment for Elijah.

“I think it’s awesome in a lot of ways for him to be a hometown kid and play for the hometown team. … For him to now put that footprint down, like he just stated, ‘We’re going to put ourselves on the map.’ … Southern Arizona is going to be put on the map as far as having players who can play at any level, any time, any place.”

Similar to the recruitment of Wilhite, Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen and defensive ends coach Jason Kaufusi were instrumental in the process of attracting Elijah Rushing.

Elijah said Kaufusi in particular made a mark on him.

“He is a teacher,” Elijah said. “He was honest. Whatever things I needed to clean up, if I made a good play, he would say, ‘That was great, but you have this to clean up.’ That was something that was huge for me.

“He’s just a family person. I’m a family person. It was huge to find somebody like that who understands what you’re doing and what you’re going through. That was something that was big for me.”

Salpointe opens its season Aug. 25 with a home game against Marana, its lone Southern Arizona opponent this season. The Lancers will gather in Show Low in two weeks for a three-day excursion to bond, practice and workout. Their official first practice with pads is July 31.

SALPOINTE (4-0, 0-0)

Head coach: Eric Rogers
Lancers compete in the 6A Central. *Region game. Games are at 7 p.m.
8/25MaranaW, 35-141-00-0
9/1at Bishop Alemany (CA)W, 52-212-00-0
9/8at Shadow RidgeW, 49-243-00-0
9/15Valley VistaW, 50-64-00-0
9/29Desert Vista*------
10/6Corona del Sol*------
10/13at Liberty------
10/20Mountain Pointe*------
10/27at Saguaro------
11/3at Brophy Prep*------

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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 seven years ago and is presently a special education teacher at his alma mater Sunnyside High School.

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