Darius Rush rerouted his trajectory on the field as a Gamecock, switching from wide receiver to cornerback. That move has the redshirt senior poised for a breakout year, his coaches and teammates say.
Rush — originally from Kingstree — was recruited as a wide receiver out of C.E. Murray High School, which competed in the smallest classification in South Carolina. He spent most of his time on special teams during his first two years of playing at USC, but his role on the team received a jolt soon after.
The Gamecocks moved him to cornerback going into the 2019 season. Though it wasn’t the original plan, it later gave him the chance to turn his career around.
Cam Smith, the team’s leading corner, suffered a foot injury before camp last summer that hindered him early in the season. Smith suffered a separate injury that caused him to miss a game against Tennessee.
In those moments, the door opened for Rush to step up.
“Coming off of that 2020 year, he kind of hit a reset button,” Smith said.
Rush spent the summer of 2021 honing his technique. He sharpened his abilities and heightened his instincts in practice. Rush’s anticipation and off-man coverage are his best on-field qualities, Smith said.
His teammates quickly noticed his progression heading into last season. He went from finding his footing on the field to becoming a cornerstone of South Carolina’s defense.
“I’ve seen him progress from when he first changed to cornerback to now,” Smith said. “So just seeing that progression, that’s crazy. How he put in the work, how he made sure stuff got done.”
The work that Smith spoke of allowed Rush to star in his role last season. Described as a laid-back person by teammates, his intensity on the field reveals itself on gamedays when he makes a big play.
Making a concerted effort to learn the position gave South Carolina a boost in 2021, when the Gamecocks finished fourth in the SEC in passing defensive efficiency.
“He practices crazy, he trains hard,” senior defensive lineman Zacch Pickens said. “He does everything he can to not allow any passes or anything that comes his way. He’s becoming a lockdown corner.”
Last year was Rush’s first as a defensive starter — he started 12 of 13 games — so an increased responsibility came quickly. He credited his defensive backs coach, Torrian Gray, for helping him refine his game. He said Gray — who joined the staff in 2021 — taught him more about the position and how to play faster.
Rush missed some time in the spring due to an injury, but he came back into form, Gray said.
“I’m very anxious to watch Rush this year, because he was having a really good spring,” Gray said. “So I expect him to have a breakout year.”
Playing wide receiver gave him a degree of help when transitioning to the secondary, Rush said, citing the ability to catch the ball.
He showed off those ball skills in the second game last season, recording his first career interception against East Carolina. He finished the season with eight pass deflections as well.
Going into 2022, Rush hopes to sharpen his football IQ. With his reactionary skills and experience with the secondary, there’s a foundation for him to build on.
Rush’s NFL stock, meanwhile, has the opportunity to rise. Ric Serritella, founder of the NFL Draft Bible, ranked him 34th among the top 50 draft-eligible cornerbacks going into this season. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy called Rush an NFL sleeper in a recent Twitter post. Another solid season could raise his pro stock even higher.
Expected to thrive this season by his teammates and coaches, he’s poised to use the remaining weeks of practice as a catalyst for his senior campaign.
“Yes, I wanted to be a receiver,” he said. “I’m just gonna deal the cards that I’m dealt, I’m just gonna play them. ... And it worked out for me.”