Rush Propst has found the joys of late-night homemade vanilla pudding. It’s been 28 months since he was declared cancer free, but with much of his sense of taste gone after a bout with throat cancer, he does what he can to maintain his weight.
“Five years ago, I was always trying to lose weight,” Propst said. “Now, I’m eating chocolate shakes and, you hear that? That’s the rustle of a Burger King wrapper.”
Propst weighs about 195, roughly 45 pounds less than he did when he resigned as football coach at Hoover, Ala., in 2007 following an investigation into grade-changing improprieties and ineligible players that also revealed Propst was supporting a second family.
Friday, Propst brings No. 31 Colquitt County (Moultrie, Ga.), the top-ranked team in Georgia, to play at No. 10 Hoover, the No. 1 team in Alabama (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET, tape-delayed).
As much as Propst, 54, wants to win the game, he also wants people in Hoover to know he’s changed since he was on MTV’s Two-A-Days reality program about Hoover. He divorced his first wife, Tammy, shortly after leaving Hoover and married Stefnie, with whom he had been having an affair. His children from the two marriages range in age from 6 to 22, including three in college. Stefnie cooks meals for the team and tries to get Propst to avoid too much sun.
“My image is an important thing I’m trying to change,” Propst said. “I’m a better person than I was. I have a beautiful family, a great home, great job and healthy kids. Everything in life that you want. Back then, I was in turmoil and if I offended someone, I want to change that image. I’m still a fiery coach, but I care about people more. There was a time in my life, I was not compassionate. It was about winning at all costs.”
In 2004, when Propst was coaching Hoover at practice, one of his daughters, Leanne, then 8, broke her arm falling out of a dugout.
“They brought her to the field, and this is before a big game,” Propst said. “I looked at her arm and you could tell it was displaced a little bit. I remember looking at her and saying, ‘You OK?’ Then turning to the trainer and saying, ‘Take care of her. Make sure she gets seen.’ The next time I saw her, her arm was in a cast. If today, my daughter, who is 7, is sick, I’m going to leave and check on her. I’ll let the (assistant) coaches run practices.”
Propst said he was the first high school coach in Alabama to use the spread offense, and it helped bring him five state titles at Hoover, including four in a row from 2002-05.
Since Propst departed, the Buccaneers have continued to win. Coach Josh Niblett is 69-6 since coming to Hoover in 2008 and has taken the Bucs to the state final every year, winning two, including in 2012 to cap a 15-0 season.
WATCH: Hoover's 2012 Next Year Now Video Series
“He has done an outstanding job,” Propst said. “The pressure of doing that there is tremendous. If you don't go to the state championship game and win it, it's a bad year.”
Though Propst has turned around a Colquitt County program that was 2-8 the year before he arrived, he’s yet to win a region or state title, though the Packers did lose in the playoffs to the state champion each of the past four years.
Niblett is amused at any talk about the game that makes it a competition between him and Propst.
“It’s not like we’re going to line up in an Oklahoma drill before the game,” said Niblett, who is 13 years younger than Propst and still looks as if he could play for Alabama. “I’d like to think, if that were the case, I would have the edge. I have the utmost respect for him as a coach. I know he’s a heck of a coach. But this game is about the kids. I don’t have to amp it up. We have somebody coming to our place, and it’s on national TV and they want to win.”
Propst said while the teams have similar offenses and defenses, Hoover should be favored.
“We have two key injuries, and we’re not going to get one of those guys back,” Propst said. “Our depth worries me, too. We’re bringing 62 kids, and he probably has 150 or 160. If we lose, I’m going to go over shake his hand and then wonder what I’m going to do the next day with my kids. If we win, I’m going to go over, shake his hand and then wonder what I’m going to do the next day with my kids.”
Hoover-Colquitt County isn't the only big game involving Super 25 teams this week:
No. 4 Allen, Texas at No. 47 Carroll (Southlake, Texas), Friday: The defending 5A-Division I state champions play at the Carroll Dragons, who made it to the state quarterfinals. Allen quarterback Kyler Murray, who was the offensive MVP of the state championship and Carroll running back A.J. Ezzard are two key players. Carroll has only lost twice at home since 2001.
No. 9 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) vs. Miami (Fla.) Northwestern at Miami Gardens, Saturday: The Raiders, the defending state 7A champions and Northwestern's Bulls have been two of the dominant teams in South Florida in the past decade, with each finishing at the top of the final Super 25 rankings in different years, but this is their first meeting. Defensive end Michael Smith, who had 18 sacks last season, keys Northwestern's defense, but the Bulls may have a tough time getting past Aquinas' usually formidable line and stopping running backs Mardre London and Deltron Sands.
No. 14 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) vs. Godby (Tallahassee, Fla.) at College Park, Md., Monday, ESPN: DeMatha has all the pieces in place this season but will have its hands full with Godby, which won the Florida 5A state title. Both teams played and won last week. DeMatha defeated Phoebus (Hampton, Va.) 24-20 in Virginia Beach as wideout Cam Phillips had a 59-yard touchdown reception. Godby roughed up Plant (Tampa) 35-16 in a game it led 35-0. Cougars quarterback J.T. Bradwell threw for 122 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 65 yards.