Air Force running back Devin Rushing suffered an ankle sprain in the second day of full-pads practice earlier this month when a defender grabbed his leg as another yanked his facemask. Injuries happen, and Rushing ended up missing over a week. But while Rushing was recovering, he basically wasn't considered part of the squad.
"I think at every position we're going to have tough, durable guys," coach Troy Calhoun said. "If you aren't, you're going to get us beat. I think the other thing is you have a built-in alibi if you're a guy who gets hurt easily. If you're a guy who gets hurt easily, you need to find another activity where there's not contact involved."
When a player under Calhoun is injured he wears a red jersey and does not participate in practice. In fact, he's not generally in the same vicinity as the team practices as injured players often rehab in separate facilities. During a scrimmage at Falcon Stadium on Friday, those in red sat in the stands instead of standing close enough to hear instructions from coaches.
"They go to meetings," Calhoun said. "I just think you either add to the chemistry or take from the chemistry. There's no in between. If you're a red jersey, I just don't want anybody sucking the life out of everybody else who is working. Who is able to go out there even if they have an itch somewhere?"
Rushing had to get a new jersey number when he returned; the equipment manager told him he had to "earn it back." Does Calhoun think the injury bug is a real communicable disease?
ESPN's College Football Live panel discussed the anecdote of supposed tough love today, making sure to remind everyone that football is tough and no babies can play the sport. Here's how Trevor Matich, former offensive lineman for BYU and the NFL, kicked off the conversation:
Don't be soft. It's a mistake to say a coach is harsh, therefore, he's abusive. If the coach loves you and has your best interest in mind, then that harshness is the best thing for you and the coach. When I was in high school, I was on a soft high school team as a junior, didn't even play. And they brought in a new coaching staff to toughen us up. On a conditioning drill we were cutting laps around the field. The only rule was don't cut a corner. Well, I was so tired, I stepped on a corner, just stepped on it. When I came back around the next time, I almost couldn't stay on my feet. The defensive line coach lit me up, ran at me up the sideline, threw his shoulder into my sternum and knocked me back. [Chris Cotter: Some would say that's abusive.] That was not abusive, that is exactly what I needed. Because that taught me, even when you are tired, you still have to focus. Even when you're tired, you still can focus. And I know then and to this day, that coach loved us. So, it's not abusive. And so, don't automatically think because you are in the office that would be abusive. Your office isn't football.
There's more talk about toughness, but the discussion misses the point. Of course, athletes need to put in work to make the team, but Rushing's case isn't about effort. He sprained his ankle because one of his teammates grabbed his leg and rolled it in practice. The ESPN panel believes that maybe we aren't on the line of communication that coach Calhoun and Rushing have, and Calhoun might just be trying to motivate him, but given the banishment of other injured players and quotes from the Gazette, Rushing doesn't seem like a special case.
H/t to Sam and Mike