The story below appeared in the September issue of Sooners Illustrated. If you're interested in reading more in-depth articles like this in a glossy magazine format, see the link at the end of the story for information on how you can become a monthly subscriber.
There is more than one side to Chris Bush.
There's his tender side.
"I bring God into everything I do: my schoolwork, family, football," Bush says. "Everything I do, I try to keep God in my life."
There's his tough side.
"If I can punish a guy," he says, "I'm going to do it, every play, any time I can."
There's his right side.
He subbed in at right guard for junior Davin Joseph when Oklahoma played Houston in the second week of the football season.
And there's his left side.
He replaced junior Kelvin Chaisson at left guard when Chaisson missed games three and four with mononucleosis.
Bush even has a middle, if needed.
During two-a-days, Bush stepped in at center for senior Vince Carter and performed well when called upon.
"He gives you a lot of flexibility," said Sooners coach Bob Stoops. "He's basically a two-deep in himself."
Flexibility is to an offensive line what red is to a Corvette: it's certainly not necessary, but man, it feels sweet when you have it.
"Your sixth guy is basically a starter," said OU offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "That's what Chris is.
"He's by far our best backup lineman, and mentally, he's versatile enough he can go from spot to spot and not drop off. That's valuable. As much as the physical versatility, it's mental versatility."
Bush isn't your typical lineman. The 6-foot-4, 284-pound junior from Channelview, Texas, may be so versatile on the OU O-line because he was so versatile as a high school athlete.
He came to Oklahoma as a 250-pound tight end, which explains his above-average quickness and superior footwork. At Channelview, he led the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (285) as a senior and reportedly graded out at 90 percent. He also played split end some.
But that's not the half of it.
Bush also played defensive end, where he made 24 tackles and had two quarterback sacks.
And that's not all.
Bush also punted, averaging 30.1 yards per kick. Oh, and he played a little backup quarterback. And threw the shot put for the track and field team.
"He's real athletic," said right tackle Jammal Brown, "and he's a guy that you want on your team."
Since he's been on OU's team, he has proven his value over and over again.
As a redshirt freshman in 2002, he went in at center against Baylor when Carter went down with injury. Later he made his first start against Texas Tech in a game that clinched the Big 12 Conference championship for the Sooners. Then started the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State.
Last year, Bush started the season-opener against North Texas at center, then started the following week at Alabama at right guard.
"He's played a lot, and he's played in big games for two years," Wilson said.
Wilson, though, admits that Bush's versatility actually may be keeping him out of the starting lineup.
"Probably one thing that hurts Chris is, I've played him in a couple spots so maybe I don't get comfortable seeing him in always at right guard or center," Wilson said. "It's, ‘I need you here,' or, ‘I need you there.' It's actually good for me, but it maybe indirectly hurts him. In some ways, he's a jack of all trades."
Wilson has tried to get his linemen to switch sides before, asking left tackle Wes Sims to try right guard and sliding Joseph from right guard to left tackle. But it's harder than it looks, and neither player was completely comfortable making the switch.
Line play at its core is footwork, and if the fundamentals aren't there, blocking angles and pad levels and all the basics that account for an effective block can be nullified.
Bush, apparently, is ambidextrous.
"It's just opposite," he says. "If you're stepping right foot first on the right side, you just step left foot first on the left side. I think maybe it helps that I came here as a tight end, so maybe my feet are quicker, and it helps me to be able to switch sides and play center when I have to.
"I'm just real quick. I'm not the biggest guy out there, so I use my speed and my quickness and my feet to get around people, or get through them. I've been doing it for two and a half, three years now, so I'm used to it."
Another factor that helps Bush is his uncommon toughness.
"The thing with Chris, he plays through anything," said Brown. "I mean, he's always hurt, but he always plays. He'll have a torn ligament in his elbow, a broken bone in his finger, he'll have the flu, it doesn't matter. He'll just play through it. He's a tough guy. He's a real solid, old-school tough guy."
Said Carter, "He's probably the only guy on the team that's had more stuff wrong with him than me. But no matter what it is, he finds some way to get out there and go. Shoot, we need more guys like that. I know coaches love when they have guys they can depend on no matter what's going on."
Bush has played through recurring pain in his knees (an old problem from high school; he says they aren't a problem these days), he "had a bad shoulder for a while," and right now has "this little foot thing going on." During this preseason, Bush practiced despite a torn elbow ligament.
The elbow was problematic when Carter — still nursing two chronically painful knees — needed some down time. During one practice, Bush sent two snaps over the quarterback's head. But trainers adjusted his elbow harness and Bush solved the problem.
"It's really important for the offense, when your starting center goes out, to be able to function as a unit. He can get the snap," Carter said. "Without the snap, there's no play. Especially in shotgun. We run a lot of shotgun plays, and when you can't get the ball back there to the quarterback, it slows practice down and you don't get the reps.
"Chris is great. He can come in and play guard, go to center, put the snap on the money and not miss a beat."
One lingering issue can't be solved by trainer's tape or rehab.
"I've even had migraines and stuff like that," Bush said. "It kind of runs in my family. They get real bad sometimes. I just never let anything stop me."
A migraine headache on an offensive lineman is like sore fingers on a piano player. You'd almost rather have a broken leg. Bush said his head throbs, his eyes water and he can't even think.
"You hit your head every single play (playing offensive line)," Bush said. "You've just got to stay focused."
How does one stay focused when it feels like a Mississippi chain gang is busting rocks on your skull?
"I think about my teammates, what we did all summer, what we all go through," Bush said. "I think about all the 85,000 people, plus my family, in the stands. With all that in account, it's nothing for me to go through that kind of stuff."
Bush, a communications major, said if he gets a headache in a game, he'll savor the time on the sideline to focus his mind, calm down and "think about what I have to do."
And if the pain so warrants, he'll find personal time to say a prayer.
"If anyone can help me with it." he says, "God can."
Again, there's the dichotomy in Chris Bush.
One moment, he's bashing heads with a 350-pound defensive tackle. The next moment, he's seeking inner peace.
Offensive linemen usually run between two extremes. On one side are the analytical thinkers, those so-called students of the game who study film, trust in the game plan and their fundamentals and go about their hand-to-hand combat in an orderly, tactical manner. On the other side are the big nasties, those who live for the collisions and don't care what angle they take to someone as long as they annihilate them when they get there.
Bush walks both sides of that prism.
"He is a little of both," Stoops said.
"Kind of in between," Carter said. "Chris, he probably comes off the ball harder than anybody on the line. On our combo blocks, I love running to the left side — or whichever side Chris is on — because I know he's going to rip that guy's shoulder out of place and turn him so it'll make my job easier. I'll be overtaking the down lineman, and it really makes my job easy when he turns a guy's shoulder. Even if I'm slow, most of the time I can still get him. Then he'll just go get the linebacker."
"I try to be well-versed in my playbook," Bush said. "But I'm more of a rip-a-guy-in-half player. That's why I try to learn as much as I can in the film room so I can go out there and let it all go. If you're out there thinking — you can't hesitate, especially at the offensive line position. You've got to know it. Then once I know it, I can let it all out."
Bush has smarts, attitude, versatility and athletic ability. Stoops said Bush is what Wilson calls a "Big Ugly," but added that he's also valuable in his team-first willingness to do anything and play anywhere. And don't think just because he's listed as a backup that he's not talented enough to start.
"He could probably start at any other Division I school across the country, Brown said. "All the guys want somebody you can depend on so if a guy goes down, we really never lose a step. That helps you feel comfortable."
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