Gallagher column: CCC and NFL linked, thanks to Bush
TYRO — “I’m blown away.” That was the reaction of West Davidson coach Dale Barnes on Saturday after one of his former Green Dragon players was drafted by the National Football League.
The New York Jets took Wake Forest defensive back Josh Bush in the sixth round on Saturday. He was No. 187 overall.
Thus, the Central Carolina Conference, which gave us a recent state champion in 2010, courtesy of Salisbury, is now linked with the NFL.
Bush is Barnes’ first NFL draft pick and you can bet his star won’t forget where he came from.
“He meant a lot to me,” Bush said of Barnes. “As soon as I got in high school, he told me to make sure my grades were right and to stay out of trouble. At the time, you don’t know what it means.”
But following the path Barnes laid out for him has now paid off.
What’s really exciting is that Bush is not just going to the NFL, but to Rex Ryan and the bright lights of the Big Apple.
That’s a long way from Frank Hulin Road, located directly between Tyro and Churchland. But as Barnes will tell you, Bush has earned the trip. He talked to him soon after the selection.
“He’s very excited and very blessed,” Barnes said. “He came to us as a 14-year-old. It’s just unbelievable.”
Bush actually compared Barnes’ style to Ryan’s.
“They’re similar,” he chuckled. “They keep it straight.”
Bush was watching the draft as his name was called but didn’t get to hear the ESPN experts discuss his chances because he was on the phone with Ryan and Jets’ general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
“I got the call a minute before the pick,” Bush said. “They told me to be ready to come in and work hard and earn a spot.”
Asked what his parents thought, Bush laughed, “Anyone who knows my parents know how they reacted.”
While Bush was taking calls, so was Barnes. Asked how many he received from well-wishers,” Barnes said, “Too many to count.”
Even though Bush had done well on Wake’s Pro Day and had interest from teams like the Jets and Raiders, he was not taking anything for granted.
“There were 15 safeties picked so just to be in that group is great,” he said.
As a free safety, he’ll add depth to the Jets’ secondary, which needed help with LaRon Landry and Eric Smith as the only experienced safeties.
A big fan of Bush is Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan.
“We burned him as a junior and it must have made him mad,” Pinyan said. “He wore us out as a senior.”
That’s an understatement. Pinyan is probably trying to forget West Davidson’s 35-21 win over the Hornets in 2006. But, uh, sorry, Joe, it’s time to rehash.
Bush rushed for 109 yards and scored two touchdowns. He threw for two scores. He had two kick returns for 116 yards. He had an interception. And for good measure, he ran down the CCC’s speediest running back in Dario Hamilton.
“Somebody told me he was directing the band at halftime,” Pinyan said after the game.
At West Davidson, Bush finished with a school-record 14 interceptions and holds the school record with the longest kickoff return of 98 yards.
“Those were a lot of good times,” Bush said.
Pinyan knew he was watching a special player.
So did Barnes, who credits former Wake Forest assistant Brad Lambert, now the head coach at Charlotte, as the main reason Bush wore Demon Deacon colors.
“Coach Lambert was in my office listening as I made my spiel,” Barnes recalled. “Wake gave him a chance.”
Bush has overcome injuries. He suffered an ACL tear as a high school sophomore and had a shoulder injury at Wake. But it didn’t stop him from becoming an All-ACC safety this past season as a fifth-year senior after moving from cornerback to safety, where he had six interceptions.
A memorable Bush play was the first interception of his college career. As a sophomore, he picked off North Carolina State’s Russell Wilson — who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the 75th pick — to end the N.C. State quarterback’s NCAA-record streak of 379 consecutive attempts without an interception.
Bush, who had just moved from cornerback to safety, laughed, “I probably didn’t know what I was doing.”
But he has always respected Wilson. He was watching Friday when Wilson was picked in the third round.
“I’d have taken him in the first round,” Bush reported.
It was a big jump from high school to college and Bush makes another leap to the highest level of football. He goes to New York on Thursday.
Can he handle it?
“I’m 23 and I’ve been playing football all my life,” he noted. “You learn to adapt.”
Pinyan is sure he will. He’ll always be a Josh Bush fan.
“Great football player with great athletic ability,” Pinyan said. “I’m happy for him because as coaches we understand it takes special qualities to play at that level.”
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.