*This contains all three sections of the series with Devin Bush Sr., head coach of Flanagan HS, member of the 1993 Florida State National Championship team and member of the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV Championship squad.
Bush Embraces Satellite Camp as UM Summer Swarm Tour Invades Flanagan
As the head coach of Flanagan’s varsity football team, Devin Bush Sr. has embraced his role as the Falcons’ headman. With several talented players on his squad, including four-star linebacker Devin Bush Jr., his son, and three-star safety Devin Gil, there are even more talented athletes within the program.
Bush says that some of these players are not receiving adequate exposure for a variety of reasons, be it scheduling conflicts, monetary restraints or even NCAA-mandated limitations surrounding contact with colleges.
To help counteract these realities, Bush devised an effort to bring the important exposure from Power 5 division football coaches to his own team. With careful consideration, the solution to his quandary was simple and the “Under The Lights Summer Training Camp” was born.
“Well I was sitting there kind of trying to figure out how to get guys some more exposure,” Bush said. “I thought let’s bring a school down where kids in my area, the tri-county area, have a chance to go to camp and get some exposure. A lot of these kids can’t afford to set up trips to stop at all these different schools in four or five days.”
Over the past few months, Jim Harbaugh’s “Summer Swarm” camp tour has helped to alleviate a few of the recruits’ struggles as the maize and blue coaches have reached out as staffers at camps across the country. This has generated a considerable degree of attention as the Wolverines’ set up shop at 10 locations in nine days.
According to Bush, this is a very valuable strategy for the schools, but more importantly a necessary strategy for prospects within his program.
“It’s too tough to put the strain on their bodies so it’s hard for the athletes to try and get that done,” Bush said. “It seems like the training over the summer has turned into asking the kids where they are going to be camping. You know, when some of the kids make those trips, what are they doing? They want to have the experience of going to camps as well, so it’s just trying to do as much as you can for these athletes.
“Me as a coach, I really don’t want my kids trying to travel and hit five or seven camps in four or five days. It is a tough thing to try and do, especially in the summer we are trying to get out there for our own strength and conditioning program. So it’s tough. Then as a coach as well, I have a team of 70, 80, 90 players. How am I going to take all 90 players on a college tour or trip like that? I don’t like separating like where, ‘you can go, you can go, you can go, you can go, but you can’t go.’ That’s tough to do as a coach.”
The proof of this camp, however, is in the results. Bush had staff members from Michigan, FAU, FIU, USF and Dartmouth at the camp, which was held at the Miami Dolphins’ practice complex. Massachusetts and Alcorn State also inquired about attending, but did not make an appearance at the June 6 camp.
“Yes, I think it was very successful,” Bush said. “I had over 100 kids come out and enjoy themselves. I watched them work closely with these coaches to learn some techniques and there were certain kids that really enjoyed the camp.”
While these camps produce overwhelmingly positive results for both the players in attendance and the schools staffing the camps, there are several proponents for limiting future ability to hold satellite camps, most notably coming from the SEC.
“Well here’s my take on the SEC,” Bush said. “The SEC is rich with schools and traditions, and those schools are part of a powerful conference. I think those schools own rules prohibited them from going to camps. The schools have the resourced to find a way to get this done. These kids don’t. They don’t have that type of resources, so I’m on the side of the kids. They should get as much experience and exposure as possible.
Under current legislation, members of the SEC are not permitted to hold or attend football camps outside of a 50-mile radius. These rules, which were set by the SEC governing bodies, have resulted in heavy backlash from many coaches, most notably Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.
“Sometimes you get a chance to meet a guy like [Alabama head coach] Nick Saban or [Ole Miss head coach] Hugh Freeze, and all these coaches from the SEC and come to do a satellite camp,” Bush said. “So I mean you will never know how it effects these kids when they get to meet those guys. It’s a good thing for the kids and it should be allowed. I don’t see the harm. It’s a big business to get these kids to go to these schools, so it’s recruiting time anyways. So why not let these kids enjoy that? The only person being hurt here are the kids. The schools don’t get hurt. The kids do.”
Apart from allowing local prospects the opportunity to interact with different colleges, this camp provided an additional opportunity to forge brotherhood on the recruiting trail for those schools in attendance. That was the most notable aspect of the camp by Bush’s account.
“It was the whole interaction between all the staff,” Bush said. “It seemed like they had been there and done that before. They worked well. They were all on the same page in the drills. You would see they were having fun competing with the kids, all those schools and the staff was even getting together and doing teammates, so for me that was a treat. That was really cool.”
Bush Sees Change From 90s College Football to Modern Times
Over the past few months, many coaches and analysts alike have offered their take on the satellite camp issue. What makes Devin Bush’s perspective unique is that it comes from an individual that has experienced the realities of playing football on both the college and professional level.
In the early 1990s, Bush played safety for Florida State and was a starting safety for the 1993 National Championship winning team. Bush looks back on his time in Tallahassee with great pleasure.
“I say that experience to me at that time was the greatest thing in the world,” Bush said. “To be able to play college football on television playing big time games, traveling to different places with your teammates and experiencing all that. The camaraderie, competing, and using football to see other places in other states and gaining all this experience and exposure… all the academic support and being a young kid, everything that we needed was right there. For me, it was an amazing experience.”
In the two decades that have passed since Bush played college football, the game has changed, both collegiately and professionally, in stark ways both on and off the field. Bush recognizes these changes and attributes the strongest advantage to come on account of the technology available to athletes nowadays.
“For one, the first thing is the TV exposure and how it effects these athletes,” Bush said. “You get a lot of second-generation athletes with a lot of techniques that are taught and better and being introduced, and these kids now learn more by imitation and have so much more opportunity to watch the college game and watch the pro game and watch even more teams play from around the country from when I was growing up. We had block schedules where you only see certain teams in the south or certain coaches.
“Now it’s unlimited where any channel you turn on, you can see all the teams and choose different players to try to learn from and imitate a lot of things that they see, and they learn different things about football, a lot of techniques. It has changed the athleticism of these athletes today. They are faster, stronger and can do a lot more things, a lot more dynamic things than was done before. [I’m] not saying it wasn’t totally done, but now you have more doing it instead of the isolated couple guys here and couple guys there. Now there are a lot more receivers that can jump up and grab the ball and catch the ball with one hand and then they catch it almost behind their backs.”
Development occurs early on with athletes in today’s age thanks to a strong accessibility to technology, Bush says. While that element of modern football is certainly influencing the game in a positive fashion, coach Bush sees a potential roadblock in the future if football continues to evolve and modify rules, much like has been done in recent years.
“Then when you look at the other side, when they try to make the game safer I think they hurt the game,” Bush said. “These kids on the defensive side, they are supposed to strike people. The game was built off being physical. I don’t like seeing when these guys are tackling and because of making incidental contact these guys are automatically ejected from the game. These kids worked hard to get into college football and are getting ejected from games, you can’t get that time back. You can’t get that game time or game experience back. Kicking these guys out of the game, that’s something I really don’t agree with. You can’t get that time back, and these people seem to be taking that for granted by saying throw them out of the game. That’s messed up.”
In short, altering the rules of how a defender is allowed to make contact with a ball carrier, or a quarterback, has an impact on how the game is played. When defensive players approach a tackle at half speed or follow through in an unnatural fashion to avoid a penalty, this leads to potential injuries that would not have occurred in the past according to Bush.
“You going to get defensive guys hurt when they don’t know what to do,” Bush said. “They don’t know whether to go full speed or pull off or move their body a certain way. I think what they need to do is teaching the proper technique of how to tackle and how to protect yourself out there. Then they can train together with these companies and get your speed back and teach a lot of kids how can we keep improving.”
The main spark plug in the progression of protective football technology and tracking injury rates is the innovation of modern day technology. This allows for everyone to take a more informed approach to the game and the results are evident.
“With all this technology, the equipment just keeps improving with better the helmets and things like that,” Bush said. “It’s really improving.
“Now you see with the helmets they are wearing now, I think I would have been hitting even harder, and you can see the game evolves and these players really get a chance to experience the evolution of the game. That is the fun of the game and how much excitement it brings to both players and fans alike.”
Even with the progression of technology, though, it appears impossible to avoid injuries entirely in any physical sport, and football is no different.
“Of course injuries are a part of the game, but the worst injury is paralysis I think,” Bush said. “If a kid gets hurt and is paralyzed, that’s bad. Other injuries, they can happen just walking down the street or just playing basketball or racquetball and just doing things like that. It’s not that it’s a violent game, but it has protective gear. It’s a really good game and it think it’s a really safe game.”
Bush learned a lot about how good of a game and how safe it is starting in his collegiate days. This is where he began his journey into great success on the field.
Bush was a 1st round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1993 NFL Draft. In the pros, Bush played eight years between the Falcons and the St. Louis Rams, racking up 320 tackles, seven interceptions and two touchdowns in his playing days.
Bush transitioned to the Rams at the start of the 1999 season, and it proved to be a fruitful move for the dynamic safety. In ’99, Bush tallied 35 tackles and snagged two picks, returning one for a touchdown.
“Of course wearing the national championship and going to the pros and winning the Super Bowl,” Bush says of his fondest memories. “Those are two very significant things in my career. Ever since I was a little young play, starting to play at 75-pounds, running around and saying I wish I could do that, and then to have it actually happen… I mean how many people in the world can say they won a Super Bowl and a National Championship? That’s a really small list. I really cherish it.”
Experience is Key to Guiding Son Through Recruiting Landscape
As not only a high school head football coach, but as the feather to rising 2016 linebacker recruit Devin Bush Jr., the elder Bush has used the knowledge he acquired during his playing days to help guide his influence over his son’s recruitment. Because of the changing times, Bush had to figure out how to close the generational camp, but he has done just that.
“Exactly, [playing] helped me and shaped how we handle that,” Bush said. “What I did, I had to learn and figure out how the recruiting is the same, but its changed a lot through the social media and the different ways they are recruiting now. So I had to get in and figure out how they recruit and how they look at certain things like that.
“A lot of things that he is going through, I can relate to because I went through similar things. It’s really special that you get to sit down as a father and a son, that’s another thing that we can share, and go through together and create all those memories. I understand and he understands because we have similar experiences when we went thorough the recruiting process. When you look at it as a dad, those things are priceless.”
When it comes to how to lead his son through the recruiting process, Bush is applying his experiences to help his Devin Bush Jr. make a more informed decision when it comes time to commit. With over 40 offers from the nation’s top tier programs, Bush will have a lot to choose from, so a careful, critical analysis of the recruiting process will be pivotal in ensuring he picks the correct destination.
“See, I get it. What I like is with a lot of these schools is there are great programs around the country. The biggest thing is knowing what they have now and the importance of the athlete and all the business part of it, we are going to make sure that these kids graduate. That is it for me as a father, I don’t care what school he picks. I just know the end result is that he will graduate. The football part will take care of itself, that’s what they do.”
Since many schools across the country can offer an opportunity to play college football at a high Division One level, the Bush family is honing in on the academic portion of recruiting and holding that factor above all else when it comes to evaluating schools.
“They have academics and make sure kids graduate? You can’t beat that. It’s also has to be a school where they learn and the things they can learn, they went through the process and they did it, that’s something that will never end. The game is going to end. One day those gloves aren’t going to work the same way they did anymore, you won’t be able to run as fast or jump as high or be as quick, but the school you get for going through and getting the education and saying, you know what, I put my mind towards it and it happened. Then one day, that will be a valuable resource to another young man to say I did that.”
One school that Bush is closely considering and applying that grading scale to is the Michigan Wolverines. While the UM satellite camp would have served as a good opportunity for the Wolverines’ staff to observe Bush in person, the four-star linebacker was not present. Instead, Bush Jr. was looking to cement his status as one of the nation’s elite.
“Bush wasn’t there,” his father said. “Bush was in Baltimore at the Rivals 5-star challenge. He wasn’t there. He would have been there if it wasn’t for being in Baltimore and doing that, but they happened to fall on the same day.”
Although this is chalked up as a missed opportunity for Bush, the highly coveted linebacker is trending up with Michigan, and he will get an opportunity to visit Ann Arbor once again this weekend.
This is as special opportunity for both father and son. When Bush Sr. was in the midst of the recruiting process over in the early 90s, Michigan was high on his short list of schools to check out.
“We went there before and I was taking two more guys from my school that had been offered by Michigan, but the first time we went to Michigan,” Bush said. “Seeing Michigan, when I grew up Michigan was one of my top schools, but I just couldn’t get up and see it. We had too many powerhouses, but seeing it myself when I first went there, I was actually at Michigan. It had some much history and tradition. Then being around the new staff that was there, it was nice. It was nice to get to experience it because of football you get to experience different things and see different places and that’s always good.”
There has been a degree of speculation that when Bush does commit to a school in the future that it may be Michigan. If and when that does happen in the future, it does not look like this weekend will be the time.
Dating back several years, Bush has been intrigued by the opportunity of announcing his collegiate commitment on national television at an All-American game. This appears to be the projected timeline for the top linebacker, which would slate his commitment right around the turn of the New Year.
“He is infatuated with being able to make that decision at the Under Armour game. When he was younger, he saw that game and he saw one of the kids do it and he was hooked on that since then. He wasn’t even in high school yet and he’s been hooked on that since then. So I think that’s something he’s going to wan to have. I think that’s something that he’s really looking forward to. In his mind I think he is going to know, but I think he is going to wait and do it then.”
When it does come time for Bush to commit, it will not be without close examination from his father. As a veteran of college and professional football, Bush Sr. understands many facets of the game that most fathers of recruits do not.
The business aspect of football is one that is not often discussed by parents, but it is an area that the elder Bush Sr. understands intimately. The wherewithal to invite collegiate coaches to serve as staffers at a local camp is not a route often traveled by high school coaches, but it is one that is showing dividends for his school. The recruiting process is typically one that would be treacherous for other high-caliber prospects such as Bush Jr., but not all prospects have a father as qualified as he does.