Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Burning Bush

Lions RB still has fierce desire to succeed

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DETROIT -- Maybe it's the nature of his position. Maybe it's the running back's instinct. Whatever it is, Reggie Bush isn't about to be brought down. He knows how to take a hit, how to absorb some pain, how to find a way around and keep moving forward.

A complicated life full of struggle and success lived in the spotlight has taught Bush how to survive and thrive as much as running around defenders on a football field.

USC. The Kardashians. Avoiding gangs growing up in a tough part of town. Winning and losing the Heisman Trophy. Winning and losing a national championship. Winning a Super Bowl. Having a distant and complicated relationship with his father. There have been plenty of highs and lows.

But now Bush is ready to start something new. He signed a four-year, $16-million contract with the Lions this spring to add the missing run component to their offence.

Bush, 28, has seven NFL seasons under his belt. He's had a good career, but not a great one. He knows this. And he thinks he's capable of more.

"Er, I've enjoyed it, but I would say that it's been OK," Bush said. "I haven't accomplished I think half of what I set out to. So I still feel like I have a lot to give to this game and I have a lot left to prove.

"So I'm still going. And I don't feel old. I still feel very young and my body hasn't taken a ton of carries over these seven years."

Still.

The word hangs in the air. It's one of the most common descriptors of Bush these days around the NFL.

Reggie Bush still has plenty of speed.

Reggie Bush still has a lot left.

Reggie Bush still has a lot to prove.

"It's just a part of the game," he said. "It's just the way we age. We age and we get slower and we're not as sharp as we used to be when we were younger, when we were 21 years old.

"But I still feel good. So it doesn't bother me when people put me in that context because I feel like when I show up on the football field they'll see."

Bush is right. In the exhibition season he has shown plenty of electrifying moves, from hurtling defenders to making something out of nothing on a 67-yard screen pass against the New England Patriots.

It could be due to the Bush's low mileage and relatively fresh legs. He has 967 rushing attempts and hasn't endured the kind of pounding on the field like Maurice Jones-Drew and DeAngelo Williams or other running backs from his draft class.

"I have met him a couple times and I still think he has some really good years left in him," Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders said of Bush. "If he can do something similar to what he did last year in Miami, some good years like that, then I think that's really all we can ask.

"I think he was around a thousand yards last year and he still showed that he has that game-breaker ability. You don't see people catch Reggie Bush from behind."

Well, New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington might beg to differ with Sanders after he caught Bush from behind on the 67-yard catch and run. Arrington only caught up because Bush had to make an adjustment that slowed him down near the end of his run. Bush still gave Arrington full credit.

"It was a great play by him not giving up on a play," Bush said. "If I was getting caught from behind every week, then I'd start to be a little worried."

There isn't a player in the Lions' locker-room who hasn't been impressed with Bush's work ethic, determination and ability.

"More than advertised," receiver Nate Burleson said.

Bush grew up in a hardscrabble part of San Diego known as Southeast, famous for its gang activity and an especially violent area known as the "Four Corners of Death."

"I really didn't involve myself directly in the gang activity," Bush said. "Indirectly, a lot of my friends were involved in it. But I really stayed away from it because I just knew at a young age that wasn't what I wanted to be like.

"And a lot of it came from seeing my dad, my real dad, and seeing the way he was. He grew up in that life and he was very much involved in it with drugs and all that stuff.

"I really, at an early age, made a decision that I didn't want to be like that. A lot of my motivation came from not wanting to be like my dad. And then having the solid upbringing from my mom, who's such a worker and the complete opposite. I still wonder to this day how they even met and how they had me."

Reggie Bush Sr. was a high school running back with talent in Los Angeles in the early 1980s when he met Reggie's mother, Denise. The two split before Bush was born and Denise moved back to be closer to her family in San Diego.

Denise married Bush's stepfather, LaMar Griffin, when Bush was 2. She still works as a deputy sheriff in San Diego County and ran a tight ship at home.

"I lived in a very strict household," Bush said. "I had a curfew, I had chores, we went to church every Sunday. So I was raised in a good home with a solid foundation."

Bush has two relationships he doesn't care to speak much about. The first is with his father, whom he still speaks with occasionally.

"Yeah, here and there," he said. "Not so much. Here and there. It just is what it is. It's not hard, it's not easy."

Bush pauses briefly. He claps his hands together. They stay closed.

"It's just been that way for so long that I'm kind of just used to it," he said. "I just know what it is."

Bush achieved a unique form of celebrity, even among star athletes, when he dated Kim Kardashian for several years and was a central figure in her reality TV show. He became a father for the first time in June when his fianc©e, Lilit Avagyan, gave birth to a daughter, Briseis.

It's a different time in Bush's life. The Hollywood glare has dimmed a bit, but it's clear he still finds it uncomfortable and a little hard to speak of his whirlwind romance with Kardashian.

"It was whatever," he said. "I actually prefer not to talk about that, just because out of respect for my fianc©e and my child now. That was so long ago and that was a part of my life and it was what it was, just like any relationship. It was good, it was bad, it was indifferent.

"I feel like everything happens for a reason and some people come in our lives for a reason. So you kind of learn and grow from that experience."

Bush said he isn't bitter about that time in his life. He wasn't always portrayed favorably on the show, but he doesn't bring it up. He has moved on.

It was the same at USC, the glamour football program in a town without an NFL team. The Trojans were stars.

"Yeah, we were," he said. "It's funny. I remember, I'd look on the sideline and I'd see celebrities at our games."

Will Ferrell, Snoop Dogg, Henry (The Fonz) Winkler, for instance. They all stopped by.

Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 and led the Trojans to a national title in the 2004 season. He became the central figure in an NCAA investigation that determined he received improper benefits. USC's 2004 wins and title that year were vacated and Bush gave back his Heisman.

But Bush still calls his time at USC one of the best of his life and says he's not bitter.

"No, not at all," he said. "What happened, happened. Obviously very unfortunate for both sides and I wish I could take everything back that happened. But ... I just try to move on from it and focus on the positive things."

The Lions have talked a lot about the need for leadership. And Bush has been quietly providing it.

"He just came over to me and gave me some advice on stuff when I was blocking for him," rookie guard Larry Warford said. "He gave me some advice on what he's going to be doing so I could adjust my blocking off of that. So he's been a real good team guy."

-- Detroit Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2013 B7

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