AJ Bush

AJ Bush won the starting quarterback job at Illinois, his third Division I college.

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AJ Bush is a wanted man.

Nebraska linebacker Mohamed Barry would like to reconnect with the Illinois starting quarterback who also happens to be his former Husker teammate. Once upon a time, Bush was Barry’s player host on a recruiting trip to Lincoln, a pair of Georgia natives dreaming of college football glory.

“He brought me here, basically,” said Barry, who owns a team-best 82 tackles this season.

Many of Nebraska’s upperclassmen spoke all week of catching up with Bush. Senior center Tanner Farmer still calls him his “brother.” Running back Devine Ozigbo said he’s happy for the run-first quarterback’s success, which includes 1,396 total yards (472 rushing) and 10 touchdowns this season. Senior captain Jerald Foster once predicted that the guy he once blocked for in practices would go on to big things.

So popular was Bush that Illinois kept him from interview requests by Nebraska media because of the volume of inquiries.

“I wish him well,” cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. “But on Saturday he’s gotta feel us.”

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Bush didn’t stay at Nebraska, instead transferring to Iowa Western after spending the 2014 and 2015 campaigns as Tommy Armstrong’s backup. He was a reserve in 2017 at Virginia Tech, then came to Illinois as a graduate transfer and won the starting job over incumbent Cam Thomas and promising freshman Matt Robinson.

Now Bush is coming back to Memorial Stadium, a place where — as he recalled to Illinois media this week — he’s familiar with everything except the visitor locker room.

“I want to try and make it just another game,” Bush said. “I don’t want to put too much emphasis on it. I know it’s going to be exciting when I go back there and actually step off the plane.”

Bush said he doesn’t hold grudges, adding that he has nothing to be bitter about from his time at Nebraska. He loved his time there, he said, and expects to renew some old acquaintances. He even plans to get a visit from a young Husker fan to whom he’d given his cleats after a spring game.

But the Blackshirts aim to end the feel-good vibes soon after the 11 a.m. kickoff. Barry vowed to “make it known” to Bush that he’s close by. Defensive linemen — who often conduct interviews together — were brainstorming their own special greeting.

“I’ll say hi to him when he’s on the ground,” 325-pound junior Carlos Davis said. “When I’m on top of him, I’ll give him a welcoming.”

“Welcome back,” responded senior Freedom Akinmoladun.

Added Khalil Davis: “I’ve missed you.”

Nebraska coach Scott Frost said he doesn’t know much of Bush, who committed to Bo Pelini a few days before signing day in 2014, beyond film study. But there was plenty to see from the tape of last week’s game against Minnesota, when the left-hander completed 18 of 25 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 127 rushing yards and two more scores.

Bush never played in a game for Nebraska. But he’ll get a chance to be on the same Memorial Stadium field as his old friends after all.

“I’m happy that he’s finally going to be able to come back to this stadium,” Foster said. “It’s going to be funny, him being on the other side of the ball. ... We really want to beat him, just so we can rub it in his face later.”

This article originally ran on omaha.com.


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