Daryl Bush rolled through his high school hallways, always in a
rush. His cold eyes were trained on a future only he could see,
full of unassisted tackles and A-plus classroom grades, with no
time for teen folly. Others saw him and thought the worst.
"People had this image that I was mean or that I thought I was
better than everybody else," says Bush. "It wasn't that at all.
I was thinking about things that I had to do. I was busy." He
was 14, a freshman at Lake Brantley High in Altamonte Springs,
Fla., near Orlando, and he had just begun writing poetry,
finding a voice for his many passions, explaining why he seemed
I want to do more than anyone
Using opportunities to do more
than just survive.
I want to be better than I was the
Every single day that I'm alive.
There was only one way for Bush to keep a promise like this, so
he took the rage of the middle linebacker and spread it across
the spectrum of his life. He is now a 6'2", 242-pound,
fourth-year junior at Florida State, who is second among the
Seminoles in tackles and calls all the defensive audibles for a
defense that is ranked No. 1 in the nation against the run and
No. 3 overall. "When he's not in there, there's chaos, because
he's the general," says Seminoles linebackers coach Chuck Amato.
Bush's leadership was never more evident then on Nov. 30 when he
was the only Seminole on the field for all 82 defensive plays
from scrimmage during a 24-21 victory over Florida. That triumph
propelled Florida State to No. 1 and put it in a position to win
its second national championship, something it can accomplish by
beating the Gators again, in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Fourteen days after the victory over Florida and only 3 1/2 years
after his arrival in Tallahassee, Bush earned his undergraduate
degree with a 3.853 average, including a 4.0 in his major,
finance. Daryl's father, Chuck, worked in a Pittsburgh steel
mill and then spent four years in the Air Force before launching
a successful career in the computer systems industry, but he
never graduated from college. That afternoon he embraced his son
and told him, "This means more to me than if I'd gotten a degree
myself." Three days after graduation Daryl was named first team
"He has always been very, very focused, knows what he wants and
goes on without much help," says Daryl's mother, Sharon. "In
eighth grade he sat down and picked his whole curriculum for
high school, all four years." Adds Florida State senior
offensive guard Chad Bates, one of Daryl's roommates, "He does
everything with the throttle wide open."
In rare moments of downtime Bush can be found playing the
saxophone--which he has done since sixth grade--jamming for a
friends-only audience with guitar-playing roommate and junior
center Kevin Long. And he's forever writing poems, giving words
to a singular struggle, as in this homage to football practice
that he wrote last spring and that could be about his whole life:
I slowly saunter off the field
Perhaps I try to stall
tomorrow's grueling heat
A faint grin cracks
a dirty face
while heaven's winking stars
applaud my work
When Bush arrived at Florida State, his stone face pushed
everybody away--the frozen, angry eyes, wedged close together,
the serious, discomforting silence. In January 1993 Todd Rebol,
then a Seminoles freshman linebacker who would start for three
years, hosted linebacking prospects Bush and Greg Bellisari on
consecutive weekend recruiting visits. Afterward Rebol was asked
by Wally Burnham, the Florida State linebackers coach at the
time, what he thought of his two pups. "I guess I like both of
them," Rebol told Burnham. "But Bush is kind of weird." Bates,
who was also making a recruiting visit to Tallahassee that
weekend, says, "I don't think he said two words the entire time,
just sat in a corner, with this real serious look on his face."
The following summer Bush was selected to play in the annual
Florida-Georgia High School All-Star game, and he brought his
attitude along. There he met Jermaine Green, a defensive back
from Brooksville, Fla., who had also signed with Florida State.
Green contemplated Bush's deadly mien and, without hesitation,
tagged him Psycho. "I took one look at him and thought, This kid
might be crazy for real," says Green, who later transferred to
When Bush took the field, the brooding introvert was transformed
into a type A gridiron madman, replete with screams and yells
and helmet-pounding damnation. Later in that summer of 1993,
during double sessions at Florida State, Bush laid out a
teammate and was given yet another nickname, Death Row, by
upperclassmen Ken Alexander and Alonzo Horner. "He looked and
played like a guy who was on death row with two weeks to live
and didn't care about anything," says Alexander, now a
second-year law student at Florida State.
Bush's Seminoles teammates, like the kids in the high school
hallway, inferred too much from a look, a sound, a tackle, and
tried to stuff him into a box when, in fact, he lives in many
boxes. Two days after his graduation he sat in the living room
of the ramshackle house that he shares with four friends and
dissected the superficial labeling. "When I'm in school, I focus
on school. I can't see going to class and not getting an A," he
says. "When I'm doing some entertainment thing, like shooting
pool or going to the movies, which isn't often, I put everything
else aside. Football I just enjoy. People get their highs off
different things. I enjoy studying the game, I enjoy contact.
The emotion just happens--I don't turn it on and off."
He does, however, stretch the envelope of commitment. In the
Seminoles' 34-16 victory over Miami on Oct. 12, Bush suffered a
slight concussion and mashed the cartilage in his nose on a
thunderous first-quarter collision with Hurricane Richard
Mercier, a 6'4", 275-pound guard. When Bush's head cleared a few
minutes after the hit, his first question to the Florida State
team doctor was, "How's the other guy?" Only after being assured
that Mercier was also out of the game did Bush agree to stay on
the sidelines. Still, he returned to action before halftime,
after the Seminoles' defense had given up two touchdowns.
A knee injury resulted in Bush's being redshirted during Florida
State's national championship season in 1993, and after leading
the team in tackles in '94, he suffered a partial tear of the
medial collateral ligament in his right knee during a preseason
scrimmage in '95. But he refused to sit. He played nine of 12
games last year, and each week during the season had 50 cc of
pink fluid drained from the swollen knee. That he played at all
was remarkable. "He didn't have a great year, because he was
hurt," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "But I'll tell you
what: He played hurt. We needed him, but nowadays a lot of guys
don't do that. I've been coaching this game 37 years, and the
toughness factor has changed so much. Some of that is good, with
the doctors and all. But a guy like Daryl Bush, he's the type of
guy who would tell the doctor, 'Don't tell the coach about it.'"
The toughness began at home, in western Pennsylvania, where his
parents were born. Bowden, who from 1970 to '75 coached at West
Virginia, approximately 60 miles south of Pittsburgh, recognizes
the qualities. "He's got that steel-mill toughness, that
persistence," says Bowden. Sharon was born in Pittsburgh, Chuck
in the small town of Turtle Creek, 20 miles to the west. Chuck's
father was born in Turtle Creek too, and both of them were high
school football stars there. Chuck taught Daryl to lift weights,
and Daryl became a state champion powerlifter in high school.
Chuck also passed on many small gems of wisdom to his son, two
of which really stuck: 1) There's nobody to drive you to success
but yourself; and 2) This game is 90% brain and 10% brawn; don't
let anybody b.s. you otherwise. The extent to which Daryl has
embraced these tenets is extraordinary. "It's a little scary,"
says Chuck, cackling. "You say things to your kids, but you
don't realize how much of it is registering."
The Bushes left Pittsburgh in 1979 and moved three times in five
years, following Chuck's career to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to
Tallahassee to Altamonte Springs, where they settled when Daryl
was entering third grade and his sister, Dana, was going into
seventh grade. Soon thereafter, the Bushes adopted
three-year-old Ashden, one of Daryl's cousins. The family is
very close and loving. All phone conversations between them end
with a simple, "I love you," never with "goodbye."
Sharon has heard about Psycho and Death Row but doesn't
recognize him. "I don't know the guy in the helmet," she says.
"The guy who writes poetry to me, I know him."
When Dana, now 25, received her graduate degree in special
education from Florida State in December '95, Daryl wrote her a
long, emotional poem entitled Fragile Minds, about a teacher of
disadvantaged children. It began, Teach me!/Teach me!/Teach me!/ The little child said....
When Dana, who now teaches kindergarten in Tallahassee, reached
the part that read, Miss Dana! / Miss Dana! / Miss Dana! / Your
name she calls out loud.... she found herself weeping at her
brother's words. The poem hangs framed on her bedroom wall.
"It's a way for her to remember me for longer than just a phone
call," says Daryl.
Other, more personal poems are reserved for his girlfriend,
Holly Ingram, a 22-year-old Florida State graduate student in
education and a former member of the school's Golden Girls dance
Another person with whom Bush shared a special bond was David
Bodle, an assistant coach at Lake Brantley High who taught Bush
the reckless joy of playing linebacker. In the fall of 1995
Bodle died of lung and liver cancer at the age of 38. In telling
the story of Bodle's death and its effect on him, Bush pulls out
a Lake Brantley High football program with a photograph of the
two of them together on the sidelines. "I ate dinner at his
house, I helped him resod his yard, I met his wife," Bush says.
"Coach Bodle got this real bad cough, but he just wouldn't go to
Bush spoke at Bodle's memorial service in the school auditorium.
Two weeks before Bodle's death, Bush called him from
Tallahassee. "I told him he was an inspiration to me," says
Bush. "I told him I loved him. Those were the last words I ever
spoke to him. I really felt relieved that his suffering was over."
Touched by loss and growing into adulthood, Bush has let himself
loosen ever so slightly. Bates, Long and senior offensive tackle
Todd Fordham, country boys all, have coerced Bush into taking
several fishing trips with them, including one on July 4, when
Bush, ever the competitor, stubbornly cast into a small creek
near Tallahassee for more than three hours without catching
anything. But he laughed about it. His intensity remains in full
bloom, but nobody calls him Death Row anymore. "I guess as
people have come to know me a little better, the nicknames have
gone," he says.
Florida State is playing a new defense this year. Like defenses
at many other schools, it is more aggressive, more in need of
adjustment on the fly. In part because Bush's audibles have so
often been right, Seminoles defensive ends Peter Boulware and
Reinard Wilson have been positioned to combine for 35.5 sacks,
yet Florida State has also stuffed the run, finding a crucial
balance. "Bush knows everything about our defense," says Wilson.
"When he tells you where to be, you know it's right."
Wilson, a senior, and Boulware, a fourth-year junior, are
Florida State's prime properties on the NFL futures market. Bush
is no slouch, either. He runs a 4.65 40, bench-presses 440
pounds and has a 38 1/2-inch vertical leap. His pro prospects
are solid, but he plans on playing another season at Florida
State. "I'm not even at my peak yet," he says.
If Bush were gone his voice would be missed. On Thanksgiving,
two days before the win over Florida, the Seminoles defense
gathered in a large huddle at the end of practice, and the
coaches asked if the seniors had anything to say. Several stood
and spoke. Bush thought about the weight of the game, about the
long year preceding it and about how no Florida State team had
gone 11-0 in 17 years. He rose to speak to his elders. "I know
I'm not a senior," he said, "but...."
Heads popped to attention, motion ceased. A full, hungry silence
fell, awaiting inspiration from the poet.