Asmussen | Here today, gone tomorrow: Illini QB Bush moves on to next step

Asmussen | Here today, gone tomorrow: Illini QB Bush moves on to next step

He was here for just an instant, starting nine games at quarterback during the 2018 season.

If it goes the way AJ Bush Jr. hopes, the Illinois pro timing day was the start of something big.

The Norcross (Ga.) product sure looks the part. He checks in at 6 feet, 4 inches and 225 pounds.

He showed off his speed during the season, running for an Illinois quarterback single-game record 187 yards at Nebraska.

He finished the season with 773 rushing yards, the third-best effort by an Illinois quarterback. He was second on the team in rushing.

No question, the guy can run. What the NFL scouts want to see is if he can pass.

He completed 117 of 217 passes for 1,413 yards. He had more touchdowns on the ground (eight) than he had through the air (six). And he threw 10 interceptions, a number that is too high for the "protect the ball at all cost" NFL.

Bush missed early games against South Florida and Penn State because of injury.

Long, winding road

Illinois was the last stop on a four-school journey for Bush. He started his career at Nebraska in 2014.

The coach who recruited him, Bo Pelini, got fired after the 2014 season and was replaced by Mike Riley.

Bush stayed in Lincoln in 2015, but didn't play.

He moved to Iowa Western Community College in 2016. After a year in Council Bluffs, he transferred to Virginia Tech.

Bush played in just five games with the Hokies before joining the Illini last summer.

The goal for most players is to pick a school, play for years, win a bunch of games and take a shot at the NFL.

It didn't go that way for Bush. Lovie Smith's third team won four games, two short of bowl eligibility.

To Bush's credit, he sees the positive side. Especially when it comes to the NFL.

"I think my whole career prepared me," Bush said. "My career has been a roller coaster. I know how to deal with it. I just came in and tried to let the man upstairs handle everything."

Offensively Bush has seen it all.

"I've done pro style, spread, no tempo," Bush said. "I'm basically going to see that in one (NFL) playbook. You've got to get used to it."

Leading up to pro day, Bush had been working out in Santa Monica, Calif. His home is in Georgia and he has family in East St. Louis.

Take it easy

Before his workout in front of NFL scouts, Bush tried to stay calm.

"It's a lot about not trying to put too much pressure on yourself," he said. "You've been playing this game since you were 7 years old. The biggest thing is to just relax. When you relax, you perform better."

Bush reached out to former teammates who had gone through the workouts.

"I've got a lot of friends in the NFL," he said. "I hit them up every now and then on social media. I'm just trying to get where they're at."

Bush wanted to let the scouts know he has the arm to play at the next level.

"Testing is testing," he said. "At the end of the day, football speed, cuts, knowledge about where to go when you're running, it's totally different than a three-cone shuttle."

Role model

Bush wants to play quarterback. But he is open to any position ... on offense.

"The Redskins said, 'He's definitely a quarterback the way he threw the ball,'" Bush said. "But some teams see me as a Taysom Hill-type player."

Hill is a former BYU quarterback who has a found a niche as a utility player with the New Orleans Saints. He has lined up at quarterback, running back, receiver and tight end. He has also been used as a kick returner and on special teams in coverage.

Sounds good to Bush.

"I don't really want to play defense," Bush said. "But something with the ball, yeah. I'm willing to do that."

NFL teams should also know Bush can block. He led 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Corbin's long TD run at Rutgers.

The NFL isn't the only option for Bush. The AAF is in its first season and the XFL returns in 2020.

"My eye is still on the NFL," Bush said. "However that weeds itself out, then I'll make those decisions. ... More options. More opportunity for evaluation."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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