Safety Bussey Hoping For A Chance To Start

The Fighting Illini lost their top three safeties to graduation. There will be no bigger challenge for the defensive coaches than finding quality replacements. One player who has a chance to step up and start at safety is Nate Bussey, one more player from a pipeline that has been so important as Illinois continues to build its roster.

Part of the foursome of outstanding athletes on the Illini team from Dunbar high school in Washington, D. C., Nate Bussey played enough to letter last fall as a rookie. Friends Arrelious Benn, Vontae Davis and Reggie Ellis have already gained much notoriety, but Bussey may eventually become prominent in his own right.

Nate knows he has much to learn, but he benefitted from getting on the field last year and learning from the seniors.

"At first, everything seems faster, but as you learn it everything slows down and the problems go away. Mostly, I'm working at the free safety position. They (departed seniors) led us to the Rose Bowl. We look up to them and still talk to them about stuff that happened in the past. We still keep in touch, and they're really helping us out."

The confidence he gained last year is making his first spring practice much easier for him.

"Yes. It came like second nature to me. If I got some mental reps on the side and a few reps in practice, it really helped a lot. Playing on special teams gave me the confidence to deal with all other players."

Bussey is listed as a starter right now, and he wants to stay there.

"It's been a dream come true. I looked at it last year and realized I could come in and play right away. It didn't happen like that, but I did play special teams. And like I say, it got me the confidence on the field with the other players. And being viewed as a starter now, it's really making me feel more confident."

Nate took advantage of the winter conditioning program to improve his body and athleticism.

"I got a little stronger and got a little faster. Yeah, I weigh 210 now. I lost a lot of weight. I got up to 223, but then I lost a lot of weight and they like the way I move. They want to keep me here."

Right now, Bussey's safety partner is Bo Flowers, who's also just one year into the system. They are learning together.

"Yeah, he's a starter, and he's doing great. We come out and do extra stuff on our own. We're working on being starters, and that's what you're seeing on the field this spring."

Nate was a high school quarterback, and he believes he could help out if the Illini become too thin at that position. While it is hoped such a move is unnecessary, he feels his quarterback experience helps him at safety.

"You can tell where they (quarterbacks) are going to go with the ball by the way they look and the way their shoulders are pointed. So playing quarterback has really helped me out a lot. And then, the way our defensive schemes are set up, it's really made me confident knowing how to read the quarterbacks."

His position coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator Curt Mallory likes Bussey's potential, but he also knows that hard work is needed to transform a youngster into a seasoned veteran.

"He's coming along. He's still got some learning to do, but he's gonna be fine. He's gonna be a good player for us. When we talked to him before the spring, it was how important this spring was for him to learn each and every day. And that's his goal, to come out here every day and get better.

"He's got good range, he has good closing speed, and he just has to work on his change of direction. The biggest thing right now with Nate is the mental part of the game. Physically, he's got a lot of tools, but mentally and technique wise he's still got a long ways to go."

Bussey has stiff competition this spring from backups Travon Bellamy and Garrett Edwards, and newcomers Donsay Hardeman and Supo Sanni will add further competition in the fall. Nate is a work in progress, but he has the spring to improve and solidify a starting spot.

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