Iraqi vet takes advantage of 2nd chance at Indiana
Kevin Bush doesn’t sweat the little stuff any more.
He’ll repeat every drill and line up anywhere the Indiana
coaches tell him to go. He won’t count the minutes untll the end of
practice or the sweltering 90-degree days. The 25-year-old
defensive end actually calls two-a-days pure joy.
Crazy? Maybe, until you realize this is the easy life for
Here, in Bloomington, Ind., home is just a three-hour drive
away, the desert is a distant memory and the days of dodging
bullets and improvised explosive devices are over. The former Army
infantryman has a new mission and that is playing football for the
”When you’re fighting, you have a lot of time to sit and think
about things and it matured me fast,” said Bush, who spent 14
months stationed in northern and central Iraq. ”I try to approach
everything, every day with every effort so I can say I left it on
the field. I’m just thankful to be here.”
Bush should be.
His academic struggles cost him a scholarship at Toledo and sent
him into a different kind of recruiting office back in the summer
of 2006. There, without telling his parents and not needing their
signatures, the young Bush joined the Army, knowing he would
eventually land in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The lessons over those 3 1/2 years were hard. Some of Bush’s
buddies died over there, others were wounded.
Bush said his dream of wearing cream-and-crimson helped him
”My biggest fear was getting hurt to the point that I’d lose a
limb because then I knew I couldn’t play,” he said. ”But over
there you did your time and you didn’t think about it.”
Yes, Bush had some close calls.
He remembers hearing the occasional pop-pop-pop of gun shots
while working out in a gym. Or sometimes the shots came in the
middle of the night. Then there was July 2008 when Bush and a
truckload of soldiers were targeted by the enemy.
Bush was driving a mine-resistant vehicle on patrol that day
when he made the mistake of pulling into the sand and right over
one of the buried IEDs. The explosion damaged the truck and left
one soldier with a head wound and concussion. Nobody else was
injured, but it was the closest Bush ever got to being seriously
”You know, you’re bound to get blown up some time or other out
there,” he says now.
His steely attitude won over his comrades, many of whom, former
Army buddy Marcus King recalls, wanted only one guy – Bush – to
drive on their patrols.
If he wasn’t driving, Bush spent his time putting on a show at
King recalls many times Bush would come back from the six to
10-hour patrols in the desert heat and head straight for the weight
room. And whenever the other guys discussed about what they’d buy
when they got home, Bush’s conversations covered one topic –
It didn’t take the soldiers long to realize this wasn’t just
”You’ve got a lot of guys that come in and tell you these
stories,” King said. ”Everybody says they’re a Troy Aikman or an
Emmitt Smith and they couldn’t prove it. But Bush was different, he
put the work in. He’d be in the gym and have a crowd around
watching him. He was putting up a lot of weight and he was very
devoted to it. We had some good friends over there that we lost
along the way, and I think they pushed him even more.”
That didn’t guarantee Bush a roster spot at Indiana.
When the 24-year-old transfer student with the questionable
academic resume returned from Iraq in November 2008, he had to
convince Indiana coach Bill Lynch to give him a chance. A
recommendation from his former coach at Homestead High School near
Fort Wayne, Ind., was just what Bush needed.
Turns out, the Hoosiers wound up getting the better end of the
Instead of dealing with some arrogant high school All-American,
focused on big numbers and an NFL career, the Hoosiers wound up
with the kind of scout team player coaches dream about.
Bush never complained, never questioned the coaches, never asked
for special treatment when he sat out 2009 because of NCAA transfer
rules. He played so hard in practice that he injured a teammate
”I’d say he might bring more to us off the field than he does
on it,” Lynch said. ”Having seen his work ethic and the way he
practiced in the fall. I don’t think you’d find too many
24-year-old guys who like being on the scout team. But, you know,
he’s been through a lot tougher things than this.”
Bush cannot forget.
The most common question he gets is whether he shot anyone in
Iraq. The answer: No.
A few former Indiana players have asked Bush for advice about
entering Officers Candidate School. The redshirt sophomore didn’t
hesitate to give his assessment. Bush still wears a metal wristband
as a tribute to one buddy who was killed overseas, and he has a
tattoo of a biblical verse on his arm as a reminder of how he
He’s not afraid to talk about Iraq – the good, the bad or the
ugly – and when he finally got a chance to play in the spring game
this April, King drove up from Hopkinsville, Ky., to watch.
”I was so proud of him,” said King, a semipro football player.
”I’ve been to Iraq three times, and I’ve never heard of anyone
that got out and came back and played college football. So to see
him in those colors, I was just really proud of him.”
On Thursday night, when Towson visits Bloomington, the Iraqi
veteran will finally make his college football debut at the tender
age of 25 and two days after President Obama formally announced the
end of combat operations in Iraq.
The Hoosiers hope to improve on last season’s 4-8 mark and a
victory over Football Championship Subdivision school Towson
(2-9)would be a good start.
It’s likely Bush will have an impact, too.
He goes into the game listed as the second string defensive end,
and after adding almost 30 pounds since his deployment, Bush has
grown into the prototypical rush end/standup linebacker for the
Hoosiers’ new 3-4 defense. But teammates look to Bush for something
else – leadership.
”I think because of his life experiences, everyone looks up to
him,” senior linebacker Tyler Replogle said. ”We’ve had a few
brief discussions about his experience there, and it really puts
everything in perspective.”
For Bush, too.
”People sometimes ask me if I regret doing it, but I don’t
regret it at all,” he said of his service. ”I tell it how it is
so it doesn’t get misconstrued. But I knew (at Toledo) that I was
never going to get the grades I needed to, and I know, 100 percent
that I would not be here without the Army. I’m one guy who deserves
a second chance.”