Eric Kush is the highest drafted Vulcan ever
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Now that he's NFL-bound, California University of Pennsylvania offensive lineman Eric Kush should finally be able to afford a new couch.
“When he got married last week, I gave him an old couch,” said John Luckhardt, who coached Kush three years at Cal U before stepping down in 2012.
“I kidded him today that when he signs his contract, I want the couch back.”
The Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday plucked Kush in the sixth round of the NFL draft – the highest a player was ever selected from the Division-II program. He was the 170th player taken overall out of 254 total picks.
Kush was at his in-law's house in Pittsburgh having a cookout when he received a call from the Chiefs' brass.
“He asked me, ‘Eric, are you ready to be a Kansas City Chief?' and I said, ‘Hell yeah!'” Kush said. “I was completely overwhelmed, speechless. You can't describe the feeling when they told me they're putting your name in. It's an absolute honor, especially being from Cal U.”
“I went on a couple visits and had private workouts with some teams, including Kansas City, but you never know how things are going to shake out.”
Last season, Kush started all 11 games for Cal U, anchoring an offensive line that allowed just 13 sacks on 430 pass attempts – the second-most in school history. The Vulcans operated a zone blocking scheme in shotgun formation under first-year coach Mike Kellar, who was unavailable for comment Sunday.
The fact Cal U did not use a pro set didn't seem to hurt Kush's value. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said on kccheifs.com he was very impressed by Kush's quickness and indicated the rookie would stay at the center position.
“What separates him is, he's a really good athlete; his first two or three steps are exceptionally quick,” Dorsey said. “To play the center position, I think quickness is very, very important.”
NFL.com graded Kush, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound center at 52.6 – which indicates a prospect with the ability to make team as a backup/role player.
Kush not only was the highest-ever draft pick in the history of Cal U, but the program's second in three years; the Tennessee Titans in 2011 selected cornerback Tommie Campbell in the seventh round.
“I played next to (guard) Rishaw (Johnson) who was getting a lot of attention, so people watching him would say look at the center playing next to him,” Kush said. “That's what led scouts to come to practices throughout my whole senior season. Outside of scouts and coaches, nobody had a clue who I was. It was funny because all these media sites have no idea who I am.”
Assuming he makes the team, Kush would join five Vulcan alumni already on NFL rosters: Campbell, quarterback Josh Portis and Johnson (Seattle Seahawks), defensive backTerrence Johnson (Atlanta Falcons) and wide receiver Thomas Mayo (New York Jets).
Also for the Vulcans, safety Rontez Miles signed an undrafted free agent contract Sunday with the New York Jets.
“Abilene Christian is the only D-II school to have that many players in the NFL and it's a tribute to the kids and the coaching staff,” said Luckhardt, head coach of the Vulcans for 10 seasons. “It's not a perfect program, but they're good kids and the one thing I think is we demand they work hard and get their education.”
“I was joking with Mike (Kellar) that people are going to start asking why we're not winning more,” Luckhardt said, laughing.
Kush, a native of Bridgeville and graduate of Chartiers Valley, was actually an undersized 245 pounds with a wrestling background coming out of high school.
Kush put on weight and, in 2010, started nine games at left tackle for Cal U, before moving to center in 2011. Luckhardt said that versatility was an extra attraction for pro scouts.
Kush was a first-team all-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference selection in 2012 and one of five players from Division II programs invited to the East-West Shrine Game in January.
“If you talk to scouts, this hasn't come out of nowhere. After we moved him to center, he just got better and better and better,” Luckhardt said. “He's just a hard-working kid, a Tunch Ilkin kind of player. He comes from tough stock. I'm sure they're going to like the fact he can play tackle in a pinch. He's got a chance to not only make the league but have an extended career.”
Kush said he'll spend the next week “soaking it all in”, before heading to Kansas City on May 8. The contract – and new furniture – will wait for now.
“The rookie contract is set in stone, all I have to do is make the team and sign whatever contract the CBA negotiated,” Kush said. “You don't sit here and think about making a lot of money, but I feel a little more secure that once I make the team, I'll be able to start out my life with my wife and son on solid footing.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.
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