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Waugh excelling in AFL

St. John’s product grabs starting nod

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Marcus Waugh grew up dreaming of one day playing in the National Football League.

That dream may still become reality for the former St. John’s Jesuit and University of Cincinnati standout.

Until then, Waugh is determined to make the most of playing a season of professional football as a member of the Arena Football League’s Chicago Rush franchise.

“I’ve always been a fan of just playing the game of football,” Waugh said. “If I had a dream, I always dreamed of playing fullback in the NFL, but I’m enjoying my time at linebacker with the Rush.”

The 5-foot-11, 250-pound rookie is making the most of the opportunity that came about after trying out for the team earlier this year. He’s gone from being a backup linebacker and backup fullback at the start of the season in March to becoming the Chicago franchise’s starting max linebacker.

There’s a certain level of responsibility that comes with playing linebacker in Chicago. It’s considered a sacred position in the Windy City, considering the likes of Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher became household names for their physical and crowd-pleasing play for the Chicago Bears.

Waugh, whose primary responsibility is to put pressure on quarterbacks, has the opportunity to make his own mark with the Rush.

It’s a position Waugh feels comfortable being counted on as one of the team leaders, particularly on defense, during his first season in the AFL.

He has adjusted to playing in the indoor football league, which is played inside arenas normally used for sporting events such as basketball and ice hockey. Indoor football uses only eight players instead of 11 on offense and defense and the field is only 50 yards long compared to a normal 100-yard football field.

“It’s a totally different game,” Waugh said. “You have to adjust to the way you play.

“As max linebacker, I blitz on every play. I have no pass-coverage responsibilities.

“My job is to get sacks and tackles for losses.”

His work in the middle of the Rush’s defense through 16 contests has led to 29.5 tackles, including five for losses, and three sacks. He’s also intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles.

“He’s got a tremendous game-time attitude, and when it’s game time, it seems he flips a switch and is ready,” Chicago Rush coach Bob McMillen said. “He’s the type of kids that wants to be the best.”

He’s carried the football 11 times for 36 yards as the Rush’s backup fullback, which calls for him to serve as an additional blocker on short-yardage plays.

Waugh has played on both sides of the football at St. John’s and Cincinnati. His skill set and willingness to be used on offense and defense is what caught the eye of the Rush coaches last winter.

“It’s his versatility that sparked interest in him,” McMillen said. “To find a guy that can do both sides of the football, especially with the size of our teams, is a good thing.”

Waugh plays bigger than his physical frame. He may not be the tallest, strongest, or fastest, yet he’s made up for being undersized by how he approaches the game.

Whether at practice or in a game, McMillen is never concerned about finding his rookie linebacker not ready to perform.

“He comes to work with the right attitude, and he’s always ready to go,” McMillen said.

The Rush are among the AFL’s top teams and are preparing for the playoffs. It’s an opportunity for Waugh and his teammates to try and finish the season as AFL champions, something the Chicago franchise accomplished a few years back.

It’s also an opportunity for Waugh and his teammates to catch the eye of NFL scouts.

In the meantime Waugh is enjoying the moment.

“We always made the joke at Cincinnati, ‘We can’t work any 9-to-5,’” he said. “Everyone has a shelf-life, and I’m going to try and play this game as long as possible.”

Even if it’s not in his dream league.

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302.

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