Playing at the JUCO level provided a few benefits to AJ Bush. The main one — an opportunity to get back to the Power 5 level of college football.
What’s not a benefit of playing at the junior college level? Buying your own socks.
Bush learned that relatively quickly after transferring to Iowa Western Community College last season.
“The most humbling thing actually was I actually went and asked for a pair of socks, and they were like, ‘You’ve got to go to Dick’s (Sporting Goods),’” Bush joked.
Bush gets all the socks he wants now at Virginia Tech, as well as all the shirts and shoes he could ask for. But what he really wants is playing time.
“It’s a blessing. Of course I came here to play,” Bush said. “I wouldn’t be at this level if I wasn’t trying to play. I just see a light at the end of the tunnel, and this is an opportunity to go get it.”
It’s been an odd journey for Bush, who enrolled at Nebraska as a member of the Class of 2014. Bush sat for two seasons as a Cornhusker, not seeing the field one time. In an effort to revitalize his career, Bush decided to transfer to Iowa Western for the 2016 season.
The results weren’t exactly what Bush had hoped for. He played 10 games for Iowa Western, throwing three touchdown passes and running for five more. However, he completed less than 46 percent of his passes and was picked off eight times.
In Bush’s eye, those numbers don’t translate to what he can do on the field. Bush transferred to Iowa Western just two days before their first scrimmage and didn’t have a lot of time to learn the playbook.
“I don’t regret anything at all,” Bush said. “The numbers we’re great, but at the end of the day, I know what I’m capable of. I know with my talents and the right coaching, and the weapons around me like I have, we can be special.”
The program also didn’t have many resources for him to study, something that he enjoys now at Virginia Tech. Bush says now, he can go into Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen’s office and break down game film more easily than he could at Iowa Western, thanks to better technology.
“The resources weren’t there as much as they are here,” Bush said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve taken advantage of it. It’s really helped me and put me in a good position.”
Bush has also continued to work with quarterback coach Dennis Gile, who broke training camp with the New England Patriots in 2003, and played in the Canadian Football League for the next two seasons. Bush first trained with Gile while at Nebraska, and has stuck with him since.
“It’s just great to be able to go with somebody who’s not my Dad or who’s not somebody I’m related to,” Bush said. “Just to learn and feed off him and obtain the knowledge he has.”
Of course, Bush is behind the 8-ball. Despite being a redshirt-junior, he has zero game experience at the FBS level. He’s also learning a new system, one very different to the one he was in at Nebraska, which ran a pro-style system.
“At Nebraska, you could use your legs, but at the same time, it’s getting all the way through your progression,” Bush said. “In this one, it’s one-two-three, and then your legs are one of your progressions.”
Bush has also had to earn the respect of his coaches and teammates. Bush said he’s made a concerted effort to showcase his intangibles and work with his receivers in his off-time.
“From day one, I came in and showed my leadership and my competitiveness, from day one I made the leadership council,” Bush said. “I won a Hard Hat award, my work ethic is there and they see that. I’m a good person, I know how to lead. I’ve been around guys who know how to lead.”
In Bush’s eyes, the battle is going well. He believes he’s adapted well to the basic offensive installation so far, and is still getting equal reps with Josh Jackson and Hendon Hooker, the other candidates to start for Virginia Tech this fall.
“In my opinion, I haven’t had a bad day yet,” Bush said. “I’ve been pretty consistent, but you can really see how he tried to mix it up and get guys with different people, just to see different ways of the offense and how it might look with Hendon, me or Josh.”