By: Lenny Megliola, Special to the News
On the surface, it might seem pretty simple zoning in on Framingham State University's offense. After all, the Rams run the ball 70 percent of the time.
Short-yardage situations, that's the domain of Rufus Rushins, or "Thunder", as coach Tom Kelley refers to him.
If not Rushins – it's Quron Wright's time because "he's lightning".
Kelley's monikers suit his running backs.
Rushins is 6-foot-1, 280 pounds. Thunder. Wright is 5-foot-5, 160. Lightning.
They're both quiet guys," said Kelley. "No egos. They play with a smile on their face." Meanwhile, opposing defensive coordinators groan at the thought of slowing down the two.
In FSU's four games, all wins, Wright has racked up 144 yards per game (6.3 per carry) and scored three touchdowns. If it's third-and-2, Rushins likely gets the ball and the Rams have a new set of downs. He's averaging 3.3 yards a carry, which is what short yardage guys are made of. Rushin has scored four TDs.
"We switch in and out," said Wright. "People really don't want to tackle Rufus. Once they get tired of it, I come in."
If the opposing team thinks it's going to catch a break with a back 120 pounds lighter than Rushins, well, good luck.
"They have to catch me first," said Wright. "I'm the speed guy. I try to make them even more tired."
Long, winding road
Considering his lack of size, it's not surprising that Wright drifted to soccer growing up in Worcester.
"Then one day my brother went to sign up for Pop Warner football. I went with him. The guy running the program said I should play too. That's how it all started. I was 7," said Wright. "At first my mother didn't want me to play because I was so little."
Truth be told, her son wasn't convinced this was the sport for him either. "But after a couple of practices I started liking it. I found out I was pretty good at it. I was the smallest player every year I played Pop Warner. It didn't bother me. I was faster than them."
He also played cornerback. Of course he preferred to run with the ball "so I could score. One year, when I was 10, I scored 35 touchdowns."
In eighth grade, he played on special teams at Holy Name High. His freshman year on the varsity was an eye-opener. "It was definitely nerve-wracking," said Wright. "Everyone was talented and bigger than me."
But the speed factor changed everything. Wright was only five-foot-3, 145 pounds that season. He scored 17 TDs. "I used my quickness a lot. I'm a patient runner. I wait for the right crease." By his senior year he was 5-foot-4 3/4 (he emphasizes the three-quarters). In a win over Algonquin, he ripped off a six-TD, 400-yards gem. "Senior year was a lot of fun." The only bummer was a loss to Nashoba Regional in the Super Bowl.
Wright spent a year at Worcester Academy then walked on at Rhode Island. "But for financial reasons I had to leave." He enrolled at Quinsigamond Community College. "I got my grades up." By then, he'd already been on Framingham State's radar.
After a year away from football, Wright was thrilled to get back on the field. He's a junior now. "He had to sit behind some pretty good players, and he never said a word," Kelley said.
"Last season I felt more comfortable," said Wright. "I got more touches." He scored nine TDs. "I'm in a good spot now. Being 4-0 helps. You can't take this game for granted. You've got to put the time in. We've still got a lot of work to do. We're not the best we can be yet. The goal is to win the [MASCAC] conference and go into the playoffs undefeated."
There aren't many football players that haven't had someone to inspire them on their way to success. Rufus Rushins didn't need a search party to find one. He lived under the same roof. "Raymond has had the biggest influence on me. He's always there for me, always cheering me on," said Rushins. Raymond, 20, is Rufus's older brother, a special needs young man.
Raymond has been a presence at Framingham State games. By doing so, he lifts his big brother's spirits, although Kelley insists "Raymond's as big, if not bigger, than Rufus." Anyway, Raymond struts around the campus proudly wearing a Rams' game jersey.
"He's always smiling," said Rufus.
Rushins is from Lynn. He played at Bishop Fenwick High. "He was a phenomenal running back," said Fenwick coach Dave Woods. "He weighed 240 when he played here."
Woods said Rushins ran for about 6,000 yards in his high school career. "We won 26 straight games and beat Northbridge 28-0 in the Super Bowl. Rufus scored three touchdowns in that game. He's a great kid to coach. There never were two words out of his mouth."
After graduating, Rushins went to AIC before transferring to Westfield State. "I had some family issues, so I decided to come to Framingham State," said Rushins, who lives in Danvers now. "It was closer to home."
Rushins took a redshirt year, so he has two years remaining after this one.
He had visited FSU when he was in high school. He totally understands his role in the Rams offense. "Short yardage is kinda what I do." When the call in the huddle is for play-action, Rushins doesn't get his hopes up. "I'm really not going to catch any passes."
He knows the fans are taken aback by the Rams' Big Guy-Little Guy tandem. "We hear that a lot," he said. It's working, that's all that matters.
A 29-14 win over long-time nemesis and D-III powerhouse Cortland State was a big lift for the Rams. But that's been tucked away. There's more riding on this season. Nobody has to be reminded. "We definitely work hard at practice. Everybody has a role," said Rushins. "I try not to over-think anything. I know what I have to do so I don't get chewed out."
Because of his size, Rushins played in the line when he started with the West Lynn youth team. He was 7. When he was 12 he played for the Lynn Chargers. One game, with his team comfortably in the lead and just a few minutes remaining, "I asked the coach if I could run with the ball. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I got four or five carries and scored a touchdown from about five yards out."
It was a harbinger.
Rushins was a 220-pounder in his freshman year at Bishop Fenwick. The team ran the spread offense. "I was kinda raw. I had a lot to learn. It was tough coming in as a freshman and learning an offense I'd never played before. I had to learn to block."
Fenwick finished 3-8. The next year? 8-3. An undefeated season followed, the Super Bowl year, at Gillette Stadium. "Wow, that was an awesome experience," said Rushins. "Walking on that field was a jaw-breaking moment."
Rushins and Wright aim for more such moments. The Rams are flying high. Listen to the Thunder & Lightning.