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.”
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
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.”
1 of 20
No. 20 Baker Steinkuhler, DT, 2011-2012: Perhaps the best way to show his impact was how his absence, due to injury, shaped the 2012 Big Ten Championship game. Without him, Nebraska seemed powerless to stop Wisconsin’s running game. Steinkuhler had 87 tackles and 12 for loss over the last two seasons of his career. He didn’t miss a start for three seasons — until the Big Ten Championship.
No. 19 Eric Martin, LB/DE, 2011-2012: A great special teams player in his first two years at Nebraska, Martin found his footing in his final two seasons at NU, especially in 2012, when he had 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He was first-team All-Big Ten as a result.
No. 18 Jeremiah Sirles, OT, 2011-2013: There aren’t many offensive linemen on the list, but Sirles — a versatile, steady performer who didn’t miss a start in his final two seasons — deserves mention. He played left and right tackle as injuries to teammates dictated and won second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012.
No. 17 Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, 2011-2013: He seemed headed for a footnote career — an interception in the big comeback win over Ohio State in 2011 — until a spectacular senior year, in which he had four interceptions, 12 pass breakups and made second-team All-Big Ten. He had interceptions in four straight games, too.
No. 16 Quincy Enunwa, WR, 2011-2013: He might have cracked the top five had NU not wasted his freshman year on a handful of plays. Enunwa was raw out of high school, but by his senior year, he wasn’t just a good blocker and a hard guy to tackle — he was a top-shelf receiver. In 2013, he had 51 catches for 753 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns, the last of which was a 99-yarder to beat Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
No. 15 Alfonzo Dennard, CB, 2011: Even if his best season was 2010, Dennard won Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2011. Dennard most notably shut down Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham, who was held without a catch in the 2011 game in Lincoln. Teams often threw away from Dennard during his senior year.
No. 14 Ciante Evans, CB, 2011-2013: He started 33 games and really hit his stride in 2013, when he had 11 tackles for loss and four interceptions on his way to first-team All-Big Ten honors. Evans was versatile enough to play nickel for NU and sometimes gets lost in the shuffle in recent Husker history.
No. 13 Stanley Morgan, WR, 2015-present: Poised to rise deep into the top 10 by the end of his senior year, Morgan will likely end his career as one of the best receivers in Nebraska football history. He broke the team’s single-season record for receiving yards last year with 986 yards. The career records for catches, yards and even touchdowns are also in sight. He has 1,743 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career thus far.
No. 12 Tommy Armstrong, QB, 2013-2016: He played in 45 games, started 44 and had his share of great moments — 2014 Iowa, 2015 Michigan State and 2016 Oregon. He also won two bowl games. He had 8,871 career passing yards, 1,819 rushing yards and 90 total touchdowns. He was tough as nails, too, but rarely played his best when Nebraska had the most to gain.
No. 11 Randy Gregory, DE, 2013-2014: Easily the most gifted Nebraska athlete of the Big Ten era, Gregory ran and leapt like a puma. Is it unfair to have him outside the top 10? Many would say yes. For me, he’s No. 11. When Gregory was good — for the last half of 2013 — he was great, but his up-and-down play in 2014 drops him a little bit on the list. Gregory left after his junior year to play in the NFL.
No. 10 Nate Gerry, S, 2013-2016: The man made a lot of plays at Nebraska, especially those 13 interceptions and 19 pass breakups. Gerry could be inconsistent, but he tended to raise his game deeper into Big Ten play. His signature game might have been 2016 Wisconsin, when he had two interceptions, or 2014 Iowa, when he had an end-zone pick and 15 tackles.
No. 9 Jordan Westerkamp, WR, 2013-2016: No recent Husker receiver had more highlight catches and plays than “Westy,” who was a sturdy option on third down and on the receiving end of Hail Mary play in the 2013 Northwestern game. Clutch when it counted — on fourth down against Oregon in 2016, on the final drive against Michigan State in 2015 — Westerkamp finished with 2,474 yards receiving.
No. 8 Maliek Collins, DT, 2013-2015: Focused from the day he got on campus, Collins missed only one game over three seasons before declaring early for the NFL Draft. His signature season came in 2014 as a sophomore, when he finished with 14 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries. Collins was one of the best high school recruits of the Bo Pelini era.
No. 7 Spencer Long, OG, 2011-2013: The best offensive lineman in the Big Ten era was, of course, a walk-on. Long was a nimble-but-powerful road grader at guard, capable of getting out in front of a ballcarrier or warding off a blitz. After making first-team All-Big Ten in 2012, his senior year in 2013 was cut short by an injury at Purdue.
No. 6 Will Compton, LB, 2011-2012: A lunch-pail guy who emerged as one of Nebraska’s best pure leaders in the Big Ten era. Compton had 192 tackles, 13 for loss and an interception returned for a touchdown over his last two seasons. He was a big part of NU's first two Big Ten teams, arguably its two best, including the divisional championship team in 2012.
No. 5 Kenny Bell, WR, 2011-2014: He holds Nebraska’s career records for receptions and receiving yards, and he had his share of highlight plays — that one-handed catch against Illinois defied logic. Bell’s speed made him a deep threat that opened up the rest of the field, and he had a memorable kickoff return touchdown to help beat Penn State in 2013. He peaked as a sophomore — 50 catches for 863 yards and eight touchdowns — but he may have been at his best in the 2013 Michigan State game when he caught seven passes for 81 yards against elite corners. He was a fan favorite for his smile, his friendliness and, yes, the hair.
No. 4 Rex Burkhead, RB, 2011-2012: As beloved as any running back in Husker history. Burkhead was a smiling, often quiet battler who had sweet moves and a lot of toughness to plow through injuries. His junior year in 2011 — when he ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns — was notable, and Burkhead played in eight games as a senior, overcoming a knee injury suffered in the season opener.
No. 3 Taylor Martinez, QB, 2011-2013: Too high? Think again. Nebraska wins the Big Ten Legends crown in 2012 because of Martinez’s ability to pull big plays from seemingly thin air, and coaches voted him first-team All-Big Ten too. His junior season — 2,871 yards passing, 1,019 yards rushing, 33 total touchdowns — was marked by double-digit comeback wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan State. Martinez’s senior season was marred by a dislocated toe, but he didn’t miss a game in 2011 or 2012.
No. 2 Lavonte David, LB, 2011: He played just one year in the Big Ten, but what a season! David was Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and an All-American with 133 tackles, 13 for loss, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions. His superb play helped the Huskers win two of their biggest games in 2011 — Penn State and Ohio State — and his pass-coverage skills were crucial in wins over Iowa and Washington. David is one of the best linebackers in school history.
No. 1 Ameer Abdullah, RB, 2011-2014: A no-brainer, Abdullah is one of the best running backs in school history, finishing with 4,744 yards rushing and becoming the first Husker to have three 1,000-yard seasons. A bizarre goal-line injury against Purdue in 2014 slowed his Heisman and Doak Walker campaigns, and also kept him from setting the school’s all-time rushing record. Still, that season — with his masterpiece of 229 yards on 35 carries against Miami — won’t be soon forgotten. Nebraska missed Abdullah more in 2015 and 2016 than fans may appreciate.