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Armando Salguero: Don’t Tell Anthony Rubio He Can’t Play In The NFL When His Father Ran For President

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Anthony Rubio takes an inside handoff and, because he’s both quick and fast by any high school junior standard, he pops the run outside and soon he’s gained 21 yards before running into a teammate downfield, giving a swarm of chasing defenders the chance to finally bring him down.

Anthony’s dad, United States Senator Marco Rubio, is in the bleachers surrounded by other parents and blaring horns, but he drowns that all out because his eldest child just authored another chunk play for Miami Belen Preparatory School’s football team.

So the man who represents millions of Floridians in the Senate is seeing his son representing the family name with distinction on a football field.

“You should never force any kids to play,” Rubio says as he prepares one of his phones to capture the next play Anthony is on the field. “Football is not a sport you can force people to play, but he likes it. And to me, it’s a great opportunity for him to develop skills and habits that will serve him for a long time.”

Anthony is not the team’s star or best player. He still has another year to grow in stature and strength and experience.

But the running back loves the sport and dreams of carrying his Friday night performances to Sunday afternoons.

“There’s two jobs I want to do in the future,” says the 5-foot-8 and 165-pounder. “One of them is to be a lawyer. The other one is marine biologist or zoologist.

“But because I love the game of football, I want to continue, if I can, to the NFL, if that’s a possibility. But if I can’t achieve that, I still want to do the other stuff.”

Here’s the thing: In the Rubio household, no dream is out of bounds, regardless of the odds.

Anthony has already accepted an invite by the Dartmouth football program to visit the school this weekend, would welcome a chance to play for the Florida Gators, and is setting his sights on playing in the NFL.

Anthony’s grandparents were Cuban immigrants who toiled, as many did when they arrived in America, doing menial labor. But their son became a lawyer. Then a state representative. Then a U.S. Senator.

And then he ran for president of the United States in 2016.

So you be the one to tell these people they can’t accomplish what they set out to do, despite improbabilities.

“The bottom line is the formula for excellence in life is you work hard, you apply yourself, and eventually it leads to results,” Rubio says. “But there’s a process you have to go through to reach goals.”

Anthony is right smack in the middle of that process now.

Last year, he played at a South Florida charter school called True North Classical Academy and he was a big deal. He carried the football 118 times and had a monster season.

But True North is a small school that plays small schools.

“It’s not that it wasn’t working for me. It was,” Anthony says, “But I wanted to play at a higher level … At Belen I’m playing against national champions like Northwestern and top programs like Norland and other schools like that.

“They’re bigger, stronger and faster. A lot faster. That, I guess, requires not more talent but more work ethic. I had to work harder because these kids are twice as good as the kids I played before.

“Fortunately, I have an adaptive personality so I was able to, you could say, adapt. But I still had to work really hard.”

Rubio loves that. Because sports in general and football at the high school level, are developing something in his son.

“Look, I don’t want to be over philosophical,” Rubio says. “It’s football and I enjoy the game and Anthony enjoys the game. But there are life lessons in the game.

“…Football forces you to accept a role and bigger plan and you have a job to do, and 10 other people are counting on you, and you’re held accountable for doing that job. You have to show up and there are things you have to give up. If they have a game next Friday and you want to go to Universal, you can’t go. You have a game.

“You learn to prioritize and you learn balancing. It’s like anything in life, you have to give something to get something. Whether that’s in business or a relationship or whatever it may be, if you’re going to be successful, you have to give something up — whether it’s your time or other opportunities.

“Part of it is also understanding what you want to achieve. It’s easy to set goals and have ambition, but ambition that’s not matched by the work necessary and the process necessary to make it possible means it’s not going to happen. That’s one of the real-life formulas that you learn to apply through sports.”

If that sounds beyond difficult for you, you’re either an elitist who never had to work for anything or you’re taking government checks instead of getting a job.

The Rubios, meanwhile, view these facts of life through a working class lens.

So when Anthony talks of his athletic gifts, he starts in a surprising place.

“You can ask my friends, every single moment I have free time, I love to watch film,” he says. “So I watch film on the other team — a lot. I see how they play and who the best players are.”

Anthony describes himself as being a “shifty” back, but he also returns kickoffs and is a gunner on punts. He’s caused two fumbles this season in that role.

“I do like to hit, but getting the feeling of being hit, I like it, surprisingly,” he says. “It makes me feel like I’m there. Like sometimes at the end of the game when I can still walk, I feel disappointed. It makes me feel I didn’t do enough.”

On this night, the Belen Wolverines are perhaps doing too much against Coral Reef. They’re leading 20-0 at halftime and dad is worried.

“Right now, my only thinking is whether he’s going to get enough touches before the score gets out of control and he won’t be playing,” Rubio admits. “… You only get so many of these games in your life, so I just hope he gets another opportunity to run the ball like that.”

News flash: Rubio’s a dad.

Anthony gets maybe six touches in the second half as the lead grows to 35-0. Every time Anthony gets the ball, an older gentleman sitting two bleacher seats below Rubio turns around and gives the senator a thumbs up.

Rubio has never missed one of his son’s games. The U.S. Senate generally conducts business Monday through Thursday — with the first vote at 5:30 p.m. on Monday and the last vote at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Friday night is reserved for Anthony on those 10 game Fridays during the season — assuming, of course, there isn’t a national crisis or important national matter to decide.

“My heart is here but if it’s an important vote, I can’t miss it,” Rubio says. “It’s my job and I imagine its the same if you’re a surgeon and someone’s dying. You fulfill your obligation. Obviously my job is not life or death, usually, but those things have happened throughout the years.”

Anthony’s attention is on what’s happening in the game, but he’s aware his parents — including his mom and Rubio’s wife Jeanette, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader — are in the stands supporting him.

“It’s amazing,” Anthony says. “I really like that because I know there’s people whose parents they don’t really care for it. And I know because my parents care about this, they make it a top priority for themselves to go to the games to watch me.”

The Belen Wolverines ended their season with a 7-3 record but didn’t make the playoffs. Anthony will run track and prepare for what both he and his father hope is a big senior season in 2022.

“I don’t care if you play in college or whatever beyond, but you’ll always look back on this,” Rubio says. “I think high school football is the best brand of football. In the NFL you play for money. In college, you’re playing for your school and your future.

“In high school, you’re playing for your friends, your neighborhood, your family. There’s a purity to the game on that level that is unmatched.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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