It has been a long and winding journey for Chris Rumph II.
Six cities in 14 years growing up. Six different programs to be around. Experiencing the joy of seeing your dad take part in back-to-back national championships. That probably is not your average childhood, but then again, so goes the life of being the son of a football coach.
Rumph's father, Chris Rumph Sr., is a longtime assistant coach who currently works with outside linebackers for the Houston Texans. Since starting his coaching career in 2003, Rumph Sr. traversed the country with his family in tow, going from program to program. Whether it was Memphis, Alabama or Florida, the Rumph family stuck together through the wild ride.
Unconventional start in the game
You would think that the younger Rumph would have a football in his hands from the time he could walk, and that he would be suiting up for pee-wee at the first opportunity. But that surprisingly was not the case.
“When I was growing up, the rule that [my dad] had was that I wasn’t allowed to play football until high school,” Rumph told The Chronicle. “Even when I got to high school, I was more of a basketball and baseball player. I just started playing football because I got tired of baseball, I just kind of didn’t want to play.”
When Rumph finally set foot on the gridiron, his relationship with his dad developed into one centered around football as well.
“That’s kind of when the football connection between us really began,” Rumph said. “He started coaching me [on] little things off the field when we were at home, just watching film of old high school games. Ever since then, he’s just helped me increase my knowledge of the game as well as my technique.”
When he got started with football, Rumph did not have the body type to excel as a pass rusher.
However, the dedication that Rumph had for improvement, along with the steady mentorship of a dad who has made a career off of developing talented defensive linemen, helped him compensate for his lack of size with speed and agility.
“My junior year, I was like 170 [pounds] as a matter of fact," Rumph said. "It was really important for him to help me work on my technique because that’s what got me to be loose and not get caught up in all those trench wars. Growing up, he was always there helping me, and I appreciate him greatly.”
Making his mark in Durham
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Rumph, who arrived at Duke as a three-star outside linebacker out of Gainesville, Fla., was seemingly just another member of a recruiting class that ranked 34th nationally by ESPN.
Well, his performance over the last two years has proven that sort of analysis to be way off the mark.
You’ve seen the numbers: 72 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 13 pressures in 25 games, many of which with limited snaps, including a career-best eight tackles and 3.5 sacks in an utterly dominant performance last year against Miami. For many, that stellar display against the Hurricanes over Thanksgiving weekend was when their eyes opened and they realized just how special Rumph was.
All the while, Rumph has made just one start in his time at Duke, a stat that seems to be some sort of practical joke at first until you realize that the best is most definitely yet to come.
Ever since the clock ticked down on the 2019 regular season, Rumph has received recognition from virtually every sports media outlet with a pulse. He was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 7 player in all of college football just a few weeks ago, as well as being named as a preseason second-team All-American by CBS Sports. Not too shabby for a guy that was considered undersized for an edge rusher coming out of high school.
But one would fail to notice all the headlines and accolades when talking to the F.W. Buchholz High School product. Most players try to exude an aura of humility, but Rumph truly seems like someone who is not at all concerned with the recognition. Once again, his mindset shifts back to the values that he learned from his parents.
“My parents are my biggest fans,” Rumph said. “They see all those accolades and are excited, but they’re also the main ones pushing me to do more and never stay satisfied, especially my mom. She tells me to keep grinding and that ‘you’ve got bigger goals in your head,’ so that just helps me stay grounded and continue to work hard until my time’s up with football. I can look back and say 'I gave it everything I got,' and hopefully I’ll be in a pretty good spot in the future.”
Over time, Rumph has built a fantastic relationship with his fellow classmates, particularly fellow defensive linemen Victor Dimukeje and Drew Jordan. Rumph recalls that the bond his class shares began before they even participated in a single practice as Blue Devils.
“Oh man, the relationship didn’t even start when we got here as a matter of fact. We had a group chat way before we even got on campus for our official, so we built that connection from the moment you were committed until the time you signed,” Rumph said. “That’s the main reason I committed to here, there’s something special about this class. Everybody knew that we had the chance to flip the script of Duke football.”
Since taking the field for the first time as a redshirt freshman, Rumph has never missed a game, and his motor never seems to turn off, rarities for a defensive lineman in the rugged ACC. If you look back at the circumstances surrounding how he began his youth football career, however, then the lack of injuries and consistent passion he has make perfect sense.
“It helped me develop a love of the game for my own, and not because my dad’s a football coach,” Rumph said regarding his dad not forcing him to play football at a young age. “A lot of people expect you to be the No. 1 player in the nation if your dad’s a coach, but that wasn’t the case with my father. He just let me live my life, he didn’t push anything on me. He let me figure it out for myself. That also came with a lot of freshness in my body because a lot of players are taking hits since they were little. So I have an advantage in that as well, starting late, and I’m just hungry to learn and continue to grow.”
What the future holds
Amazingly, Rumph might just be getting started, with the work ethic that has defined his rise continuing to shape both his immediate future at Duke and his budding future at the next level.
“I definitely expect to never stay complacent and continue to grow,” Rumph said. With the work I put in [during] the offseason, and the opportunity we have this year, not only me, but everyone on the team expects to make a leap. You have more experience under you, you have more knowledge of the game.”
During quarantine, he went to work on multiple new pass rushing techniques with his dad by his side. With a global pandemic forcing the stoppage of all team activities, what better way for Rumph to improve than to go to the lab with the help of the man who knows his skill set better than anyone? Besides, if he can take even a miniature step forward, both the Blue Devils and his constantly improving draft stock will benefit greatly.
“I think of it as like getting new powers, like I’m a superhero," Rumph said. "Every offseason, you put that work in and you get a new power that you can experiment during camp and figure out your little toolbox that you head [into] the season with. That’s kind of the way I look at it, it’s a funny way but I’m a fun guy."
Rumph has consistently made his presence felt ever since arriving in Durham in 2017. The impact that he has had in such a short amount of time is something to behold, and it makes the entire Blue Devil defense a formidable unit as the season approaches.
If he can showcase a few more dynamic moves to get to the quarterback a half-second quicker, we might be looking at the greatest season for an edge rusher in the history of the program. At the end of day, however, Rumph is only concerned with making his parents proud and helping his team win as best he can.
Ultimately, staying true to his family values is what makes Chris Rumph tick, and it has resulted in him having the potential to become one of the best defensive linemen in Duke football history.
For more preseason coverage of the 2020 Blue Devils, check out our football season preview for features, predictions and more.
Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.