There becomes a point in the life of every football player where the playing days unfortunately come to an end, and the decision on what to do in life after football results in a challenging transition.
However, that transition was a little easier for T.J. Rushing, who is well underway to a successful coaching career.
Rushing, a former standout cornerback at Stanford and in the NFL, saw his playing career come to an end in 2012, and immediately, he made the transition into the coaching world — although he never intended to get into coaching.
When he first got to Stanford as a freshman football player, he had his eyes set on a career in law. During his time in the NFL, Rushing tore his ACL, and that really changed everything.
“When I got injured and tore my ACL and started sitting back and dissecting the game and having to use my brain to give people little tidbits from what I saw on film, I felt a great reward from that — even more so than when I made a big play,” Rushing said. “So when that started happening, I was thinking this might be my thing that can also give me satisfaction.”
So that’s exactly what Rushing did.
He spent the 2012 season at Arizona State as a graduate assistant before moving on to Northern Arizona, where he served as the cornerbacks coach in 2014. In 2015, Rushing went back to his alma mater, Stanford, to serve as a defensive assistant.
Now, Rushing is back at Arizona State to take the next step in his young coaching career as the Sun Devils’ defensive backs coach — something he says wouldn’t be possible without the game he loves.
“It’s hard to even put into words how much football has impacted my life,” Rushing said. “I’m from a small town in Oklahoma and was granted an opportunity to go attend Stanford, partly because of football. I was able to go to the West Coast then to Indianapolis, Detroit, and Canada.
“Football has opened doors and opportunities that without it I would have never gotten to experience. I tell everybody how I owe this game just about everything.”
The biggest adjustment for Rushing is that he’s one of the older guys around the program. He has guys looking up to him for guidance, and there’s more than just fellow players counting on him to do his job.
“There’s other people relying on me now,” Rushing said. “It’s for my wife and my daughter. I just traded teammates.”
The easy part of the adjustment from player to coach comes with Rushing’s age. Although he’s been through the rigors of collegiate and professional football, it wasn’t that long ago that he was the one making plays.
“I’m young enough and have been in it recently enough that I can still relate,” Rushing said. “The game is about relationships. If I can get the guys to know that I can relate to what they’re going through and talk about some things then I think they play harder. They show up with a great attitude and are ready to work. It helps with that relationship part of the game.”
But overall, Rushing wants his players to realize the opportunity they have in front of them. He says he tells his players to take time each day to sit back and realize how fortunate they’ve been to play college football at the highest level.
It’s what he’s grown to know through all of his years on the gridiron, and he hopes he can continue to grow as a person and a coach in the industry.
“I never try to get too far away from the realization that I have been blessed beyond measure,” Rushing said. “I can’t put it into words. I can’t describe it. It’s just one of those cool fairytale kind of deals. I try to put everyday into perspective.
“I try not to look too far ahead and do the best job I can do at this spot. I’m going to try to do everything I can with this (defensive backs) job to make people realize that I am doing a good job and just work my way up.”