Since having his gallbladder and parts of his liver removed in August because of an ongoing battle with cancer, Gary Bush Sr. said he has been moving around at about 50 percent these days.
He calls that an upgrade considering how for months the chemotherapy and pain from the surgery made it almost impossible for him to get out of bed.
But last Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Bush’s 20-year-old son, Deon, made the 51-year-old science teacher — currently on sick leave from Miami Southridge High — feel about as good as he has all year when he picked off Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
“It was electrifying,” said the elder Bush, who made the nine-hour drive to Tallahassee with his wife and daughter and relished the opportunity to see Deon’s first college interception.
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“It had been killing Deon sitting on the sideline all season and watching the other guys get their picks. After the game he said, ‘Dad, the guy was trying to knock the ball out of my hand.’ But there was no way he was going to take that ball away from Deon.”
Like his father, Deon Bush has spent the past few months recovering from surgery. He had a slight tear in his groin and had to have sports-hernia repairs performed in the offseason. But defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said that Bush played the most and looked the best he had all season in Saturday’s game.
Now it appears as though Bush (6-1, 203 pounds), who has played in only six games this season and registered 11 tackles and a sack, could be in line for his first start of the season when the 14th-ranked Hurricanes (7-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) play host to Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) in a pivotal Coastal Division showdown Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium.
Even if Bush doesn’t start, D’Onofrio said it’s time to “give him a bigger role.” UM coach Al Golden agreed: “He’s got to get to that point where he starts to impact ball games. It’s time.”
The key, D’Onofrio said, is getting Bush back to the confidence level he was playing with last year as a freshman when he racked up 34 tackles, three pass breakups and tied for second in the ACC with three forced fumbles. Golden said Sunday that Bush needs to “be more authoritative, be confident in his calls, getting us in the right rotation and getting us in the right call from the back end.”
Last Saturday, Bush came off the bench and took turns filling in for senior AJ Highsmith and fellow sophomore Rayshawn Jenkins. This week, Bush is listed as the co-starter with senior Kacy Rodgers, who is still battling back from an ankle injury himself.
“It’s been slow for Deon coming back not only in his confidence with his injury, but the mental aspect of playing safety,” D’Onofrio said. “We need physical players back there. Your physical players in games like [FSU] have to make plays. They have to impose their will. You guys know who they are. You watch the games. The guys that are physical, that can cause fumbles, those guys have to show up and be physical. He’s one of the guys that can do that. And we’re going to need that from him.”
Bush said his groin felt the best it had in a long time Saturday but added that he’s still pushing through it. His father, who met with him Monday night in Miami, said his son is probably at about “90 to 95 percent.”
“It’s tough not being able to be there for your team the way you feel like you should be there for your team,” Deon Bush said. “It wasn’t easy. You get thrown adversity in your life and sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to bounce back and keep fighting through. It was hard. But I just had to push through it.”
Seeing his father fight cancer has inspired Deon, who drives home from Coral Gables a few times a week to see him. Bush Sr. said the trip to Tallahassee took a lot out of him physically. So did taking a plane to Indiana this year to watch his eldest son, Gary Bush Jr., a senior receiver at Purdue, take on Notre Dame. Bush Jr. didn’t play in the game but the family went anyway to show support.
“I still feel pain, but it’s not enough to stop me from moving around and trying to get better,” Bush Sr. said. “It won’t stop me from supporting my kids. I’m on my way to a basketball game my daughter is going to play in now. I have to do what I have to do to support them.”
Bush said his most recent chemotherapy treatment ended last week. He will visit the doctor in six weeks, when he hopes he will be told he’s cancer-free.
“I give God all the credit for everything that’s happened,” Bush Sr. said. “Plus, I just thank the Canes family, who has been there supporting me through this whole ordeal.
“People were always calling me, encouraging me, telling me God is looking out for me. And He has.”