Gary Bush is getting the chance to see his son, Deon, finally have the type of season he always knew was in him.
Deon is healthy, making plays all over the field for an improved Miami Hurricanes defense, and resembling a grown-up version of the hard-hitting freshman All-American safety that was once a gem in Al Golden’s first full-fledged recruiting class.
Gary has savored every minute of it, every tackle, every big play, and he says he’s going to continue to do that until God tells him it’s time to go.
“Every time I think about The U getting ready to play against Florida State, it lifts my spirits up,” said Bush Sr., a 52-year-old former science teacher at Miami Southridge who is fighting liver cancer for the second time since he was first diagnosed in April 2013.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I live for football. I don’t know what I’m going to do after football. There’s nothing else I look forward to in life.”
Bush Sr., a former receiver who played alongside Hall of Famer Jerry Rice at Mississippi Valley State, actually has a lot he looks forward to. He has been active in his community for years, coaching and serving as a mentor to many kids. But this second bout with cancer (it returned in March, eight months after he had surgery to remove part of his liver and gallbladder) has understandably hit him hard.
He says he’s in a shell and hasn’t told many friends that the cancer has returned “because I didn’t want to put my problems on other people.”
An ultra-fit husband and father of three athletes (eldest son GaryJr. played receiver at Purdue, and 14-year-old daughter Nya starts as a freshman for Miami Southridge’s girls’ basketball team), Bush used to get up nearly every day at 4:30a.m., run five miles at the gym and lift weights before he got sick.
Now, his son, UM’s second-leading tackler (45 tackles) who ranks fifth nationally with four forced fumbles, pushes Gary to get out of bed on Sunday mornings to go with him to church. Deon, 21, moved back home in August so he could see his father every day and push him to not give up hope.
“I just try to get him up so he can stay up, stay positive about everything,” Deon said. “I just try to live every day with him like it’s the last, make the best out of every situation.”
Deon, his father said, serves as the man of the house. He does the chores Gary used to do while caring for his sister and 15-year-old cousin, Jayvon Colbert, the seventh child Gary said the Bushes have taken in over the years.
“I know it’s a hardship on us now, but it’s something my wife [Michele] and I have always done, and we believe God put on us to try and help kids’ lives,” Gary said.
Each day, Gary said, Deon wakes up at 5a.m. and drives from their home in Cutler Bay back to Coral Gables so he can go to school and play football. When he’s done with school and football, Deon returns home and does whatever is needed around the house, such as driving his sister or cousin to practice or picking up the yard.
“There’s not one game that I go out there and I don’t think about my dad or my mom,” Deon said. “She goes through a lot of stuff, as well. Before I go out on that field, I think I’ve got to have a big game to impress them. But then I don’t try to do too much because I just try to play hard, do my job, try to make plays. It fuels emotion after I make a play because I’m doing it for my team and my family.”
Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio credited Bush’s improved play at safety — a very complex and important position in UM’s scheme — as a big reason the Canes defense is better.
“I think you’re seeing Deon show up,” D’Onofrio said. “He’s developed into a really good tackler. That’s really changed over time. When he was younger he would go in there more reckless. His head might be down and he’d hurt his shoulder, his neck. He’s not having injuries because he’s bigger and stronger and trusting his technique. I’m very proud of Deon and what he’s done so far this year.”
Bush recorded his first career interception last year when he picked off Heisman winner Jameis Winston in Tallahassee. He has recorded turnovers in each of his last two games — a fumble recovery and an interception. He credits his success this season to his teammates. He said they’ve been doing their jobs, so he has simply been doing his.
A sports management major, Deon is on pace to graduate in December 2015, his father said. Leaving early for the NFL after just three years at UM isn’t something the junior has thought about, Gary said. He’s focused on his grades and other things.
Right now, Gary said, his cancer is “stable,” but he’s also praying he gets better news soon. He would love be around to see Deon achieve all of his dreams. Beating No.2-ranked FSU (9-0) Saturday is certainly one of them.
“I wouldn’t miss this for nothing,” Gary said. “I just asked the lord to help me through this week right here so I can watch this game. I’ll be right up there where I always am with all the parents cheering hard.”