As hard as it to believe now, there was a time, back before he began playing in the youth leagues, when Dylan Rush wasn’t sure if he could be a football player.
He looked at the game as too complex.
“I didn’t think I could remember all the plays,” Rush admits. “My dad said, ‘Dylan, that’s the easy part. You’ll do fine.’”
The speedy Rush, now a senior at Mapletown, has done just fine. And at times, he has made a complex game look easy. He simply takes a handoff, pitch or direct snap and runs and runs and … often times, Rush doesn’t stop until he gets to the end zone.
Perhaps no local player has been more important to his team’s success over the last three years than Rush has been to Mapletown’s. The senior running back, though only 5-9 and 180 pounds, has carried a heavy load on offense. The aptly named Rush already has 4,298 career rushing yards and 60 touchdowns in three seasons.
Last year, Rush carried the ball an amazing 300 times and ran for 1,852 yards, scored 22 touchdowns and 144 points and even threw a TD pass, helping Mapletown to a 5-6 record and a spot in the WPIAL Class A playoffs for the second year in a row. The 300 carries is an extreme workload for a running back at any level. Only one NFL player had 300 carries last year.
Rush has carried as many as 42 times in a game and had three games last season of at least 40 carries.
“There are times, especially on Saturdays, that I feel every carry from Friday night,” Rush said. “But when you’re playing the game, you don’t notice the workload, you just play. After a game, sometimes I hear how many times I carried the ball and my thought will be, ‘Really? I had 30 carries? It didn’t seem like that many.’”
Keeping Rush healthy is of utmost importance for the Maples, who lost to Northgate in the first round of the playoffs a season ago, when Rush played in what amounted to only nine games. He missed one game and almost all of another with a sprained ankle.
“He had 300 carries, but he didn’t get hurt in a game,” Mapletown head coach George Messich pointed out. “He had a pulled muscle that bothered him for most of the year and the sprained ankle he had happened in practice. He didn’t play against Jeannette because of the ankle and played only two plays against Fort Cherry – and he probably shouldn’t have played those two – so he was hurt, to some degree, almost all of last year. He’s healthy now.”
And that’s what has Mapletown thinking it has a chance for a winning season and to be a contender in the Tri-County South Conference.
“When you have a running back like Dylan Rush, then you’re never out of a game. Our older kids have seen that. They can look back to the Monessen game last year.” Messich said.
That was when, with Mapletown still trying to secure a playoff berth in the regular-season finale, the Maples trailed Monessen 12-0 with seven minutes remaining. They rallied to win 22-12 as Rush ran for two scores and Mapletown threw, what was for them, a rare touchdown pass.
Mapletown has eight starters returning on offense. Messich likes the potential of J.J. Scott, Ronnie Burkholder-Walter, Lane Powell and Tanner Weston, each of whom started on the line. Burkholder-Walter will move from guard to tight end this year but Ethan Carter, who started some games on the line a year ago, also returns.
“Offensively, I think we’ll be better,” Messich said. “We have a lot of people back and they know our system. They’ve worked hard during the summer and the attitude is great. We do need to find a quarterback.”
To move up in the Tri-County South Conference – Mapletown finished fourth in the eight-team league a year ago – the Maples must improve the defense. They gave up at least 35 points in each of their losses.
“We have to do a better job up front on defense,” said Messich, who is counting on improvement from four returning starters on the line and three linebackers.
The Maples’ schedule, which begins with an Aug. 25 home game against Serra, a WPIAL Class AA qualifier last year, also includes a road game Oct. 20 at Class A runner-up Jeannette.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs again,” Rush said. “It would be great for our senior class to make it to the playoffs in three of our four years. As for individual goals, I don’t think that way at all. Winning games is all I think about. It doesn’t matter if I gain 100 or 400 yards. What I want to do is win.”