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Rush takes aim at records, titles for Central Michigan

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Cooper Rush

Cooper Rush knows exactly how close Central Michigan was to winning the Mid-American Conference West Division title for the right to play for the league championship at Ford Field last year.

Now, Rush will do all he can to help CMU get over that hump and finish games. The Chippewas were 7-6 overall and 6-2 in the MAC to earn a share of the division title.

Rush, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, has a ton of experience, throwing for 9,354 career yards and 67 TDs. He has a chance to pass former CMU great Dan LeFevour’s MAC record for career passing yards (12,905). He completed 66.3 percent of his passes last season, throwing for 3,848 yards and 25 TDs.

Rush wants what LeFevour owns, a MAC championship ring, and he thinks the Chippewas have the talent to get the job done. CMU defeated perennial MAC power Northern Illinois last year, but then lost close games at Western Michigan (41-39) and at home against Toledo (28-23).

“The MAC West is very strong,” Rush said. “It’s deep and talented, but we definitely think we can win it. We lost those two MAC games (WMU and Toledo) by a combined seven points. We need to finish games and pull those wins out.”

Receiver Titus Davis was the face of the program in recent years, then Rush took over last year and showed his guts and talent early and often. He bulled his way into the end zone, scoring on a 16-yard run to give the Chippewas a 13-10 third-quarter lead in an eventual 24-13 loss to Oklahoma State in the opener.

Rush completed 37-of-51 for 430 yards, rallying the Chips back from a 24-10 halftime deficit to force overtime in an eventual 30-27 loss at Syracuse, then hit on 26-of-39 for 285 yards and a TD in a 30-10 loss at Michigan State. CMU trailed 17-10 in the fourth quarter, but failed to finish drives down the stretch.

“I’ve been around for a while now, have had great teammates, so you don’t really think about it,” Rush said Rush when asked if he considered himself the face of the CMU program. “I guess it’s cool when people say it, but at the end of the day I’m just out there playing football like everyone else.”

CMU second-year coach John Bonamego is thrilled to have Rush running his offense. He said Rush has added increased arm strength, which should make him even more effective his senior year.

“Probably what jumps out the most about Cooper is his arm strength has improved,” said Bonamego. “He continues to grow in the offense and he’s already been outstanding in that area. I’ve seen him really emerge as a vocal leader. In the past, he’s maybe not been as vocal. He’s always been a leader, but I think he’s stepping outside of himself a little more in that area.”

Rush says he has worked on his deep ball and feels confident with his ability to make that throw.

“I’ve been really working on driving it on deeper routes, comebacks,” Rush said. “I feel good with it right now. We have a great group of seniors and juniors, so they know what’s going on, and that makes my life easier.

“We have a lot of playmakers. They all pull for each other so they’re fun to work with. Mark Chapman and Corey Willis are two speed guys who can stretch the field. Jesse Kroll is the guy who’s always there, a great route runner, big body (6-3, 210) who can go and get it, and we have a talented tight end in Tyler Conklin.”

Rush knows the Chippewas need a better ground game to open things up for the passing game. He is optimistic with the return of junior Devon Spalding. Spalding ran for 77 yards on 15 carries against MSU and caught 10 passes for 102 yards against Syracuse before breaking his collarbone against Northern Illinois, missing the final eight games.

While Spalding is healthy again, the Chippewas were dealt a big blow when sophomore running back Romello Ross suffered an ACL injury in training camp. Ross, who scored four TDs in a 35-28 comeback win over Eastern Michigan in the regular-season finale, then rushed for 100 yards and a TD in a 21-14 Quick Lane Bowl loss to Minnesota, is out for the season.

Still, Rush will be the difference-maker for the Chippewas and WMU coach P.J. Fleck thinks he will be playing in the NFL next year.

“He’s an NFL quarterback,” Fleck said. “He’s going to be playing on Sundays next year at this time. He’s a high-intensity kid. He’s incredibly accurate and he’s a wonderful leader.”

Central Michigan

Last season: 7-6 (6-2 MAC West)

Coach: John Bonamego, (second year, 7-6)

Notable: Bonamego’s first year as head coach of the Chippewas was a challenging one. He was diagnosed with cancer just prior to spring ball, then returned to the sidelines after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which drained him of his energy. The Chips were motivated by his fight and toughness, defeating perennial MAC West power Northern Illinois while going on to earn a share of the MAC West title. Close losses to rival Western Michigan (41-39) and Toledo (28-23) prevented the Chips from an outright division title and spot in the conference championship game. CMU earned a trip to Ford Field to play in the Quick Lane Bowl, falling to Minnesota, 21-14. And now, Bonamego is healthy and looking forward to Year 2.

Top players: Cooper Rush, Sr., QB, 66.3 percent, 3,848 yards passing, 25 TDs, 9,354 career yards, 67 TDs; Devon Spalding, Jr., RB, healthy again after missing majority of season due to broken collarbone; Jesse Kroll, Sr., WR, 61 receptions, 866 yards, 4 TDs; Corey Willis, Jr., WR, 15.2 yards per catch, 5 TDs; Joe Ostman, Jr., DL, missed majority of last season due to injury, 10 tackles for loss in 2014.