Daryl Bush rolled through his high school hallways, always in a rush. His cold eyes were trained on a future only he could see, full of unassisted tackles and A-plus classroom grades, with no time for teen folly. Others saw him and thought the worst. "People had this image that I was mean or that I thought I was better than everybody else," says Bush. "It wasn't that at all. I was thinking about things that I had to do. I was busy." He was 14, a freshman at Lake Brantley High in Altamonte Springs, Fla., near Orlando, and he had just begun writing poetry, finding a voice for his many passions, explaining why he seemed so distant.
I want to do more than anyone else could,
Using opportunities to do more than just survive.
I want to be better than I was the day before,
Every single day that I'm alive.
There was only one way for Bush to keep a promise like this, so he took the rage of the middle linebacker and spread it across the spectrum of his life. He is now a 6'2", 242-pound, fourth-year junior at Florida State, who is second among the Seminoles in tackles and calls all the defensive audibles for a defense that is ranked No. 1 in the nation against the run and No. 3 overall. "When he's not in there, there's chaos, because he's the general," says Seminoles linebackers coach Chuck Amato. Bush's leadership was never more evident then on Nov. 30 when he was the only Seminole on the field for all 82 defensive plays from scrimmage during a 24-21 victory over Florida. That triumph propelled Florida State to No. 1 and put it in a position to win its second national championship, something it can accomplish by beating the Gators again, in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Fourteen days after the victory over Florida and only 3½ years after his arrival in Tallahassee, Bush earned his undergraduate degree with a 3.853 average, including a 4.0 in his major, finance. Daryl's father, Chuck, worked in a Pittsburgh steel mill and then spent four years in the Air Force before launching a successful career in the computer systems industry, but he never graduated from college. That afternoon he embraced his son and told him, "This means more to me than if I'd gotten a degree myself." Three days after graduation Daryl was named first team Academic All-America.
"He has always been very, very focused, knows what he wants and goes on without much help," says Daryl's mother, Sharon. "In eighth grade he sat down and picked his whole curriculum for high school, all four years." Adds Florida State senior offensive guard Chad Bates, one of Daryl's roommates, "He does everything with the throttle wide open."
In rare moments of downtime Bush can be found playing the saxophone—which he has done since sixth grade—jamming for a friends-only audience with guitar-playing roommate and junior center Kevin Long. And he's forever writing poems, giving words to a singular struggle, as in this homage to football practice that he wrote last spring and that could be about his whole life:
I slowly saunter off the field
Perhaps I try to stall
tomorrow's grueling heat
A faint grin cracks
a dirty face
while heaven's winking stars
applaud my work
When Bush arrived at Florida State, his stone face pushed everybody away—the frozen, angry eyes, wedged close together, the serious, discomforting silence. In January 1993 Todd Rebol, then a Seminoles freshman linebacker who would start for three years, hosted linebacking prospects Bush and Greg Bellisari on consecutive weekend recruiting visits. Afterward Rebol was asked by Wally Burnham, the Florida State linebackers coach at the time, what he thought of his two pups. "I guess I like both of them," Rebol told Burnham. "But Bush is kind of weird." Bates, who was also making a recruiting visit to Tallahassee that weekend, says, "I don't think he said two words the entire time, just sat in a corner, with this real serious look on his face."
The following summer Bush was selected to play in the annual Florida-Georgia High School All-Star game, and he brought his attitude along. There he met Jermaine Green, a defensive back from Brooksville, Fla., who had also signed with Florida State. Green contemplated Bush's deadly mien and, without hesitation, tagged him Psycho. "I took one look at him and thought, This kid might be crazy for real," says Green, who later transferred to West Alabama.
When Bush took the field, the brooding introvert was transformed into a type A gridiron madman, replete with screams and yells and helmet-pounding damnation. Later in that summer of 1993, during double sessions at Florida State, Bush laid out a teammate and was given yet another nickname, Death Row, by upperclassmen Ken Alexander and Alonzo Horner. "He looked and played like a guy who was on death row with two weeks to live and didn't care about anything," says Alexander, now a second-year law student at Florida State.