UW-Whitewater's award collector
But according to those that know him, he’s earned every single one of them.
“I think it has to go to his work habits,” said Warhawks head coach Lance Leipold. “I’ve said it many times before, he has as good of practice habits and attention to detail, great effort, finishes every play as much as any player I’ve been around in 20-plus years of coaching.
“He’s special like that. If you could clone it, bottle it, whatever it is; I think that makes him the player he is. He works at it continually.”
Probably the highest honor the senior wide receiver has received was being named as one of 10 Gagliardi Trophy finalists, Divison III’s version of the Heisman Trophy.
His résumé: Through 14 games this season, including playoffs, Rusch has a team-leading 87 receptions, good for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Just to be nominated is an honor in itself, and it’s very nice,” said Rusch. “But at the same time, we’re more concerned about our playoff run as a team and getting that championship trophy as a team.”
Like everyone else on the Whitewater football team, right now Rusch is concentrating on this Saturday’s Division III national championship game, the sixth consecutive year the Warhawks have advanced to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Far more than just a one-year wonder, Rusch was a contributing member to the 2007 and 2009 national championship teams as well.
Throughout his four-year collegiate career, Rusch has become one of the most decorated wide receivers in WIAC history. The Hartford native holds conference-career records for receptions and yards receiving.
For his efforts, he was named a first-team All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection for the second consecutive season.
Offensive lineman Matt Weber, who was also named to the all-conference team, spoke highly of his teammate.
“Rusch’s awards speak for themselves,” said Weber. “He’s one of the hardest working kids on this team. He’s our team captain, everything. He does work as hard as everybody as his awards proved that he has. He does all the little things right.”
Even more refreshing, it’s not all about football for Rusch. He is a three-time member of the WIAC Scholastic Honor Roll and been named to Whitewater’s Dean’s List in each of his eight semesters.
More recently, the receiver earned the WIAC’s Max Sparger Football Scholar-Athlete, named after the former conference commissioner and awarded annually to an athlete in their final year of competition with a minimum 3.25 grade point average.
“Obviously we’re not going to be playing football for the rest of our lives, so we need to look back and get a career going as well,” said Rusch. “It’s very important attending class and keeping up with the academics, getting good grades. I feel like outside of football and family and friends, it’s definitely a big priority.”
Not only will this weekend mark Whitewater’s sixth consecutive appearance in the Stagg Bowl, it will be the sixth consecutive appearance against the same opponent, the University of Mount Union (Ohio) Purple Raiders.
Having familiarity with the enemy also comes with a downside for a player like Rusch, however.
“It’s a very talented secondary,” said Leipold. “It should be a talented defense. This is the fourth time Aaron plays against them, so I know that they’ll have plenty of film—I’m sure they’re going to find ways to take (our receivers) away from us within their scheme. Getting off the line of scrimmage and finding ways to get open will be a big challenge.”
Regardless, Rusch is looking forward to it.
“They’re going to be ready for everything that we’ve got,” said Rusch. “At the same time, we’re going to be ready for them, so it’s going to be a great time.”