Ex-boxer refuses to throw in the towel on Cornell’s winless season


Growing up in Brooklyn, Cornell senior safety Rush Imhotep was a boxer. Participated in the sport for four years starting at 7, and again in high school, when he immersed himself in the Golden Gloves program.

He did not have a ton of bouts, he recalled, but the sport appealed to him, moved him. He liked the individuality, the fact that it boils down to “whatever work you put in against whatever work they put in — whatever talents you have vs. their talents.”

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He very much believes something some sage (probably Teddy Atlas, the trainer-turned-TV-analyst) once said — that a boxing ring is “the squared circle of truth.”

“You find out a lot about yourself when you go in the boxing ring,” Imhotep said.


“I found out,” he said, “I like to fight.”

And still does. The Big Red carries an 0-6 record (0-3 Ivy League) into Saturday’s game at Princeton (4-2, 1-2), and has dropped seven in a row since beating Columbia Nov. 15, its lone victory in 10 games last season

Yet Imhotep, who is in his second year as a team captain, appears undeterred.

“You’ve just got to take each game as it comes to you,” he said. “If you look at it, really, each game is more opportunity to change what you’ve been going through these past two seasons.”

So he tries to emphasize to his teammates the importance of getting the most out of each practice session, then seizing the day each Saturday.

“It doesn’t really matter what’s happened before,” he said. “It’s what will happen after. It’s living in the moment that day, and taking advantage of it.”

He was born in Detroit, the same hometown as his cousin, Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, but moved to Syracuse at 2 as his mom, Benita Miller, pursued her law degree. They moved to New York City three years later, where Benita worked first as an attorney in Brooklyn Family Court, then created the Office of Older Youth Services and Residential Care Monitoring and finally served as Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Family Permanency Services in the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

This past July mayor Bill de Blasio appointed her Executive Director of New York’s Children’s Cabinet.

“Her work ethic, day in and day out — just grinding it out for our family and doing what she has to do — is quite remarkable,” said Imhotep, who has a younger sister. “It’s not something you see often.”

It is, however, something he always sought to emulate. He starred in football at Poly Prep Country Day, while continuing to dabble in boxing. He came to love each sport equally, but understood that there were more opportunities available through football, not least of which was the chance to get an education.

That’s how he wound up at Cornell, where he came off the bench and played on special teams as a freshman in 2011 — a year that saw the Big Red go 5-5, its best finish in his time there. He had 65 tackles his sophomore season, his highest total to date, but missed all but two games in ’13 when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in a knee — an injury that required no surgery, as it heals on its own.

Last year he had 56 stops. He has 16 this season, while ducking all the haymakers that have come the team’s way.

He is on course to graduate in January with a degree in African Studies, but is unsure what he will do then. He has a vague idea that he might one day want to open his own workout facility, but beyond that doesn’t know.

What is certain is that he will return to boxing — not because he wants to turn pro or anything like that, but because the sport meets some need deep within him.

“It’s definitely something that I’ll keep doing,” he said, “until my body says I can’t.”

It has served him well so far, without question.

Above: Cornell’s Rush Imhotep, chasing down a Lehigh running back, has been ducking all the haymakers that have come the team’s way this season. (Courtesy of Cornell Athletics)

Gordie Jones

Gordie Jones is a freelance writer based in Lititz, Pa.