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Bees manager, East High football star connected by more than sports

Bees manager Johnson and East High football star Rush united by more than sports.

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It reached a tipping point, Johnson said, when he shouted something from the stands "I probably shouldn’t have said." Soon after, Korey revealed that he had been struggling with the game.

Keith and Malena talked to him for a long time about it. Johnson realized how overbearing he’d been.

At a glance

Losing hand in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas 51s beat Salt Lake 9-7 on Monday, handing the Bees their third loss in the four-game series. > C5

Keith Johnson file

» Salt Lake Bees manager

» Age 42

» Had a 12-year professional playing career, including six major league games with the Anaheim Angels in 2000

» Played the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Bees, batting .283

Korey Rush file

» East High defensive end

» Age 17

» The 6-foot-2, 245-pound DE had 14.5 sacks in his junior season in helping the Leopards reach the state 4A semifinals

» Committed this month to play football at Arizona State

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"You look at Korey, you see a grown man, then you see him giggle with his friends, and you realize he’s just a little boy," Johnson said. "When you’re coaching your own kid, you see everything that they do, and how much they love it, and there’s so much emotion attached."

Keith and Malena took a gentler hand with their son. Korey started to listen to his parents and his coaches, and his career started to take off. As a 6-foot-2, 245-pound defensive end last season, he racked up 14.5 sacks for the Leopards as they went to the 4A football semifinals. His parents cheered him on from the stands.

As Korey grew, his relationship with his stepfather also matured.

Johnson supports his wife’s vision for Korey: She wants to see him work hard in all his pursuits, and get a college education. That was also what Johnson’s mother, who raised him after a divorce when he was young, wanted for her son.

Every day, Johnson sees Malena make the same sacrifices in the hopes of bettering her son’s future.

But Johnson is also an advocate for Korey’s independence. When Malena buckles down on Korey, Johnson is often the one who appeals to her to let him enjoy his social life and be more like a teenager.

"He knows I deserve some freedom at this time in my life, and he has my back a little bit," Korey said.

Outside of sports, Johnson leaves his manager persona at the ballpark.

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The men grab buffalo wings or burgers together — if it’s Johnson’s choice, they’ll go for Mexican food. They wrestle. Sometimes, the two head to Park City to hit baseballs. It’s a get-out-of-the-house activity, often peppered with Johnson’s advice about sports and life.

"He doesn’t always say much, but I know he’s listening," Johnson said.

Korey has one more year to go in high school, and then he’s planning to leave for Tempe, Ariz., to join the Sun Devils. Keith and Malena have a daughter together, Maya, but Johnson said Korey’s mother is already worrying about her son’s departure. Korey acknowledged it will be hard on him, too.

Until then, there will be more games to watch, more dinners together, more time in the batting cages. And Johnson doesn’t plan on wasting a moment.

"One more year we’ve got with him," he said. "But I think by the time he gets out of our house, he’ll be ready for the challenges he’s going to face."

kgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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