Thinking Man

You might not expect someone who plays a position as physical as middle linebacker and is the son of a former professional wrestler to have a cerebral attitude about the game of football. But WVU redshirt freshman Branko Busick does.

If anything, the son of former WWF wrestler Nick "Big Bully" Busick is a thinker. Working through his first set of spring drills as a Mountaineer, Busick summed up his feelings on his position succinctly.

"Middle linebacker, it's not a position," he said. "It's more like an attitude."

"I heard that when I was little from Ray Lewis. And I agree. You see middle linebackers that are great leaders, they get after it and they do have that killer instinct."

Lewis is just one of the players Busick said he admired. Showing his appreciation for an era of football players long gone, he said he looked up to former Pittsburgh Steelers great Jack Lambert.

Both Lewis and Lambert gained fame as hard-nosed, physical linebackers who punished their opponents with big hits. That is a reputation Busick developed as a star at Steubenville High School in Ohio.

"That's the best way to play the game, of course," he said with a smile.

So perhaps it should come as little surprise that Busick has worked his way into the early two-deep this spring, backing up Pat Lazear at the middle linebacker spot.

The redshirt freshman was singled out for praise by Mountaineer defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who said Busick had already shown signs of becoming a leader -- even at his young age.

But since getting to Morgantown a season ago, things haven't always been so. Sitting out the entirety of last season was something new to Busick, who was used to being a contributor. He didn't enjoy the time he spent sitting and watching.

"It was a very rough year for me," he said. "It was one of the rough years of my life, but also, I learned. My eyes opened up so much more to life -- not only in football, but my freshman year of college was just a great experience, you know?"

Busick said he learned a lot about football and life from veteran WVU players like Reed Williams, Zac Cooper and Ovid Goulbourne. His football family helped him overcome any doubt that may have crept into his mind during a mentally taxing redshirt year.

So Busick comes into his first set of spring drills refreshed, his hope renewed by the chance to become a contributor to a West Virginia defense that has the makings of a solid unit.

"Some kids come to practice with a mindset like, ‘Man, I've got to go to practice,'" said Busick. "This is the funnest time of the day for me. I'm out here with my brothers on the field. Even if Coach yells at me, it's all part of the game. This is all fun. I'm out here doing this for my family and people back home. I'm out here to succeed."

"It's a great thing. You get out there, and I'm not redshirting now, so I'm not sitting and watching, I'm out there going for it and getting after it. So you learn. You learn a lot better by doing it."

And in practice thus far, Busick has impressed Casteel (who functions as both his defensive coordinator and position coach) with his aggressiveness and nose for the football.

Those are traits the linebacker said he had picked up in his high school days, as part of the highly successful Big Red program coached by Reno Saccoccia.

"I was very lucky to have great high school coaches," said Busick. "In high school, I had problems blitzing, and they told me, A-to-Z, how to blitz. To this day, I'm not perfect at it, but I improve every time."

"You've got to get a feel for it. You feel the quarterback and your eyes will show you where to go. Linebacker is pretty much like a running back, you know? You've got to find that hole."

With a solid winter workout period behind him, Busick said he feels comfortable with where he stacks up physically. And mentally, he said he gets more comfortable every day in Casteel's 3-3-5 stack defense.

So the redshirt freshman hasn't set any limitations on what he can accomplish this season.

"I would love to start this year," Busick said. "I would love to be the guy that makes the big hits and the crowd goes crazy. But I also want to help my team to victory. I want to see my team go to the BCS this year."

"Coach Casteel is doing a great job of getting on us and making sure we've got our mind right for this year. He's been helping me learn. Coach is just making sure I'm learning more this year. And if I do get out there, I'm going to know what I'm doing and be ready to roll."

And if he does manage to get on the field this season, he will get the chance to put that middle linebacker attitude on display. That attitude was something that even a scholar of the game like Busick couldn't describe.

"You've just got to watch, and you'll see it," he said, grinning broadly. "You can't miss it."

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