June 17, 2011

Propst beating cancer, fighting coaching rumors

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DUNCAN, S.C. - He has lost about 50 pounds, dropping to around 175.

His wife Stephanie says he doesn't have the same energy as he used to - and he agrees.

The enthusiasm to stomp the sidelines isn't there. So much so that he even told an assistant coach to relax at an apparent blown call at the Palmetto State Showdown 7-on-7 tournament Friday afternoon.

Relax? Rush Propst?

It's a whole new season - and outlook - for one of the most intense high school football coaches in the county.

After battling, and so far beating, throat cancer (both of his parents passed away after battling cancer), the Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County Packers head coach is easing back into his role.

"I am doing well," he said. "I finished treatment on May 18 and have been eating more and getting back after it. I was working five-hour days for a bit, but this week I have put in a couple of eight-hour days. I am still probably only 60 percent though."

But with high school football just around the corner, Propst knows that 60 percent will not be enough.

"I hope to be back to full strength when we really get back into it in July and August," he said as his wife sprayed sunblock to protect his neck.

"I figure I have another 10, maybe 12 years that I want to keep coaching."

That timeframe is where the intrigue comes into play.

Last week, Josh Bean, a columnist for the Press-Register in Alabama, wrote that the University of Alabama-Birmingham should hire him to replace Neil Callaway.

Bean surmised that the Blazer football program was failing to deliver and the coach - who was made famous with the rise of Hoover (Ala.) High football and its MTV show Two-a-Days and then infamous for his exit from the program - would put UAB back on the map.

Propst did not shy from the situation.

"You know, I don't know how to address this," he said. "There is not an opening at UAB right now, they have a coach, but I would be lying to say that I wouldn't want the job if it were to come available."

The administration at UAB just rewarded its head coach with a one-year contract extension before Bean put the target on his back.

Propst, while admittedly interested, was quick to point that he was not campaigning or gunning for the position.

"I think what Coach Callaway has done there, with what they have in place, has been fantastic," Propst said. "They do more with less than most any program, and if he has the chance to be there for another 10 years, I would be totally fine with that and think that he deserves the chance to go out on his terms."

For Propst, a return to the Birmingham area could spur a renewed energy about the program.

It is also an energy that, right now, Propst doesn't know if he has to offer.

"I think UAB could be a special place," he said. "You aren't going to battle Alabama or Auburn, but you can create something that will get 25- or 30-thousand people on Saturday afternoon."

Building something is always of interest to Propst.

It is why he took his current job and most of his previous jobs.

"Flip my career back to 1997," he said. "I went down to Mobile and we combined two schools and went 13-1 that first year at Alma Bryant. Then, at Hoover, they won nine games total in the three years before I got there. Colquitt was the same way."

His quick fixes would entice any team, or university, that was passionate about football.

"I like being the only game in town," he said. "I love it at Colquitt. It is a county where everyone goes to one place. We are all Packers."

For now Propst is a Packer, too. And he is fine with that.

"I know that I could be happy if this were the last place I ever coached," he said.

His wife nods. She is from Pell City, Ala., and said Moultrie reminds her of home.

"The people there have been so good to us," Stephanie said. "We love it there."

But Propst would still like to challenge himself. He still has eyes of a hunter.

"I would like to coach Division I football," he said. "I know I could recruit Alabama, and with my connection in Georgia, I could bring in some really talented kids. There are a lot of things I would like to do, but right now I am at Colquitt and that is where I plan to be."

For all the places he could go, there are qualities he looks for, one that UAB may have.

"I like going to areas that were good and have fallen on hard times," he said. "Picking programs up from the bottom. I don't know how I'd do at a place like Byrnes, you know, a place that is always winning. I like to make things stronger."

It is a desire to make things stronger that keeps Propst believing that he too will be back to where he once was.

MORE: Palmetto State Showdown 7-on-7 schedule of events | Delaware team wants to compete


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