STILLWATER – Jonathan Rush recognized the sound and the pain ringing from his left knee.
“I've torn the labrums in both shoulders,” Rush said, “and that sound, that pop, that sickening sound…”
So before the doctors ever confirmed the worst on the sideline, Rush sensed his season was over.
“You just know,” he said.
Indeed, the Oklahoma State senior had torn his ACL there on the turf at Texas A&M, in Game 4 of what would become the greatest season in program history.
It's a blow you wouldn't wish on anyone.
Except, perhaps, now in hindsight.
The NCAA granted Rush a sixth year with the Cowboys, paving the way for a rewrite senior season and providing OSU with an experienced and talented piece for an otherwise transitioning offensive line that has already suffered the blow of losing left tackle Michael Bowie.
“Thank God he got hurt,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said unabashedly. “Thank God he got hurt. Because that didn't matter, obviously. We didn't lose to Iowa State because we didn't have Rush. Did we miss him? Yeah, he's a good football layer.
“But obviously the silver lining is, thank God he got hurt. Because you have only so many experienced, truly good football players. It's really a blessing in disguise we got him back.”
Rush's impact at OSU came slowly. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2007, played sparingly in 2008, before missing all of 2009 with an injury suffered in preseason camp.
Finally, as a junior in 2010, he started every game at guard. And he'd made three starts last year before backpedaling into pass-blocking mode and collapsing.
“It was just one of those freak things,” said Rush, a product of Killeen, Texas. “I stuck my leg and it popped. That's all it took. One little thing, something I've done a million times.”
For Rush, the initial shock was most difficult.
In the biggest role of his career, playing the best football of his career, he was betrayed by a faulty ligament.
“It's a big mind thing,” he said. “I don't think the severity of the injury matters so much, when it's season-ending. Once you know you're not going to be playing for the rest of the season, it's like, ‘Oh, it sucks.' You've done all these workouts and all your training was for nil.
“But you've got to get over it.”
And Rush did just that, almost immediately.
The NCAA helped, responding to OSU's appeal for a sixth year within a few weeks. The Cowboys did their part, too.
Even though he'd have loved being on the field for Bedlam and the Fiesta Bowl, he didn't allow regrets to cloud his recovery or interfere with his pride in his teammates.
“It would have been even more miserable if I sat in the stands and watched my team do bad,” Rush said. “Then I would have been thinking the whole time, ‘Man, if I didn't get hurt, maybe we would have done better.'
“That's the silver lining of it for me, the fact that they did great. They gave me some great games to watch. It was entertaining.”
Rush was all set to go out in style alongside pals Grant Garner and Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez, the other seniors on the offensive line.
Instead, he's back for more, offering a rugged and physical presence to the interior.
“Now I'm enjoying being with these guys,” he said.
And they're glad to have him.
Beyond he and senior Lane Taylor, the right guard with 36 career starts, no other OSU lineman has started more than five games, although several have played. Bowie's departure complicated things, forcing a shift of junior right tackle Parker Graham to the left side, with sophomore Daniel Koenig replacing Graham. Center Evan Epstein is a senior, but a former transfer walk-on who has barely played.
So Rush's return, as Monken said, now looks like a blessing.
“He didn't get out of here as soon as he thought he would,” Taylor said. “But I'm glad he's back. He really helps the offensive line. He has a lot of experience and he'll be able to hold down the left guard spot and do well.
“You can't really have enough experience. But when you've played a lot, you've seen different looks, different defenses, different moves. You're more prepared.”
OSU offensive line coach Joe Wickline said he's expecting Rush's best season yet.
“That one more year makes all the difference,” Wickline said. “And with an extra year, you get even more of the picture. And I think he gets the big picture, not just from a player standpoint, but from where he stands in life and how this whole thing works.
“He didn't play a lot early on. I remind him of that. We had some good players here who allowed us to sit him for two or three years. So he still has that under his belt. And he's playing for that.”
Best season yet? Rush is all for it.
“That's what I'm practicing for,” he said. “I don't believe it yet, because it hasn't happened. But that's what I train for every day, to be the best I can be and do better than I did last year.
“I kind of feel like I'm cheating. I got an extra year, a sixth year in the game, time to hone my craft. I'd like to take advantage of it.”