Bush's Seminoles teammates, like the kids in the high school hallway, inferred too much from a look, a sound, a tackle, and tried to stuff him into a box when, in fact, he lives in many boxes. Two days after his graduation he sat in the living room of the ramshackle house that he shares with four friends and dissected the superficial labeling. "When I'm in school, I focus on school. I can't see going to class and not getting an A," he says. "When I'm doing some entertainment thing, like shooting pool or going to the movies, which isn't often, I put everything else aside. Football I just enjoy. People get their highs off different things. I enjoy studying the game, I enjoy contact. The emotion just happens—I don't turn it on and off."
He does, however, stretch the envelope of commitment. In the Seminoles' 34-16 victory over Miami on Oct. 12, Bush suffered a slight concussion and mashed the cartilage in his nose on a thunderous first-quarter collision with Hurricane Richard Mercier, a 6'4", 275-pound guard. When Bush's head cleared a few minutes after the hit, his first question to the Florida State team doctor was, "How's the other guy?" Only after being assured that Mercier was also out of the game did Bush agree to stay on the sidelines. Still, he returned to action before halftime, after the Seminoles' defense had given up two touchdowns.
A knee injury resulted in Bush's being redshirted during Florida State's national championship season in 1993, and after leading the team in tackles in '94, he suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during a preseason scrimmage in '95. But he refused to sit. He played nine of 12 games last year, and each week during the season had 50 cc of pink fluid drained from the swollen knee. That he played at all was remarkable. "He didn't have a great year, because he was hurt," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "But I'll tell you what: He played hurt. We needed him, but nowadays a lot of guys don't do that. I've been coaching this game 37 years, and the toughness factor has changed so much. Some of that is good, with the doctors and all. But a guy like Daryl Bush, he's the type of guy who would tell the doctor, 'Don't tell the coach about it.' "
The toughness began at home, in western Pennsylvania, where his parents were born. Bowden, who from 1970 to '75 coached at West Virginia, approximately 60 miles south of Pittsburgh, recognizes the qualities. "He's got that steel-mill toughness, that persistence," says Bowden. Sharon was born in Pittsburgh, Chuck in the small town of Turtle Creek, 20 miles to the west. Chuck's father was born in Turtle Creek too, and both of them were high school football stars there. Chuck taught Daryl to lift weights, and Daryl became a state champion powerlifter in high school. Chuck also passed on many small gems of wisdom to his son, two of which really stuck: 1) There's nobody to drive you to success but yourself; and 2) This game is 90% brain and 10% brawn; don't let anybody b.s. you otherwise. The extent to which Daryl has embraced these tenets is extraordinary. "It's a little scary," says Chuck, cackling. "You say things to your kids, but you don't realize how much of it is registering."
The Bushes left Pittsburgh in 1979 and moved three times in five years, following Chuck's career to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Tallahassee to Altamonte Springs, where they settled when Daryl was entering third grade and his sister, Dana, was going into seventh grade. Soon thereafter, the Bushes adopted three-year-old Ashden, one of Daryl's cousins. The family is very close and loving. All phone conversations between them end with a simple, "I love you," never with "goodbye."
Sharon has heard about Psycho and Death Row but doesn't recognize him. "I don't know the guy in the helmet," she says. "The guy who writes poetry to me, I know him."
When Dana, now 25, received her graduate degree in special education from Florida State in December '95, Daryl wrote her a long, emotional poem entitled Fragile Minds, about a teacher of disadvantaged children. It began, Teach me!/Teach me!/Teach me!/The little child said....
When Dana, who now teaches kindergarten in Tallahassee, reached the part that read, Miss Dana!/Miss Dana!/Miss Dana!/Your name she calls out loud.... she found herself weeping at her brother's words. The poem hangs framed on her bedroom wall. "It's a way for her to remember me for longer than just a phone call," says Daryl.
Other, more personal poems are reserved for his girlfriend, Holly Ingram, a 22-year-old Florida State graduate student in education and a former member of the school's Golden Girls dance team.
Another person with whom Bush shared a special bond was David Bodle, an assistant coach at Lake Brantley High who taught Bush the reckless joy of playing linebacker. In the fall of 1995 Bodle died of lung and liver cancer at the age of 38. In telling the story of Bodle's death and its effect on him, Bush pulls out a Lake Brantley High football program with a photograph of the two of them together on the sidelines. "I ate dinner at his house, I helped him resod his yard, I met his wife," Bush says. "Coach Bodle got this real bad cough, but he just wouldn't go to the doctor."