Gone are the days of the single-faceted player. The evolution of this great game of football has gone from slow and bruising, to quick and dynamic. Offensive linemen have abs and DEs can keep up with RBs. A pocket passer must know how to ”buy time”, runners have to “make somebody miss” and receivers have to “lay out”. To excel in this league means to add to this evolution by bringing yet another facet to the position and game.
Each year the Pro Bowl is decorated with athletes that kept highlight reels running and the competition sweating. Being unstoppable, unblockable or unguardable means to have at easy dispose, a litter of moves, skills and techniques, which the opposition has no answer for.
Versatility will keep a player on top. It will keep his name on an NFL jersey. It will keep pens writing and checks coming. Today’s linebacker is expected to have many, many skills in his toolbox. He will have to run, shuffle, tackle, catch, lateral, read, react, engage, shed, cover, back-pedal, sprint, shuffle, dodge, pile, jump; all while not being blocked, trapped, cut, chipped, pancaked and most importantly, beat.
Versatility is going from quarterback to safety to inside linebacker to outside linebacker, to record 83 total tackles, a sack, an interception, a blocked punt, a pass defended and a touchdown last season.
Versatility is Illinois’ LB Nate Bussey
“From the very beginning, Nate has played extremely well,” coach Ron Zook praised in a Chicago Tribune interview, “He’s always the first one (at practice) and the last one to leave. “
The compliment of all compliments from a head coach and exactly what a scout wants to hear. Bussey had to spend a lot of time transferring his immense skill from position to position.
Coming into Champaign as a decorated 3-time Bowl champion, Bussey played quarterback, safety and return kicks for his DC high school. Not your average 3 way player – he has a career QB rating of 102.7, passed for 28 TDs, rushed for 12 and had 4 interceptions in his senior year.
He turned down offers from Louisville, Colorado, Syracuse and UCLA, to choose the program that offered him a scholarship while still in the 10th grade…the University of Illinois.
While Kent State heavily pursued him to play QB, the Fighting Illini offered him a defensive back role. Quite the change from the electrifying QB/RB/R that led his team to 3 consecutive titles. But by accepting this offer for a new position, in a new system, in a new state, in a new league, Bussey was showing off one of his many outstanding qualities.
It may not just be due to his flamboyant dress code why his teammates call him, “Pastor”, but maybe subconsciously it’s a salute to his faith. His positive energy and spirit resonated through his voice as he detailed his career at Illinois, “my career was a testament in faith for me. In ’07 I started as a true freshman on special teams and played special teams all 4 years. It was not until after my sophomore year when I got my break at LB. A few of our LBs went down and they needed help at this position. Then I started at LB in my senior year because of the numbers I had put up and my special teams play.”
Damn right. Bussey was all over the field, all of the time. He has blocked a punt, forced and recovered a fumble, scored a TD, made interceptions, and has bone crushing tackles and sacks (ask the Missouri QB who was nearly decapitated by Nate).
He kept working harder than everyone else while still believing in himself. He accepted any and all challenges, whether they were new positions or different variations, as he knew what his goal was – starting linebacker at the college where the great Dick Butkus played.
Bussey went on to have a remarkable 2010 campaign. He was second on the team with 83 total tackles with a sack and interception for touchdown. The resulting domination at the linebacker position was due the amalgamation of his immense skills from the other positions he dominated at. His ball-hawking skill reciprocated from his days as a QB, speed and burst from his RB time, his ability to find holes and pursuit are attributed to returning punts and his field awareness is credited to his safety play.
The result? The most well-rounded and versatile player in the draft.
When speaking about the transition, Bussey pointed out that it was, “more ‘different’ than ‘new’. I had to l
earn the playbook plus learn techniques for that position. I really had to buckle down and learn it, while using proper technique. It really turned me into a student of the game.”
“I already had the footwork and skills that can transfer from position to position”, he added, “whatever the coach needed me to do, I did it”.
Bussey admitted that it was tough to sit and watch and patiently wait for his “time”. But he had no shortage of motivation. He looked no further than his family and an adorable little girl.
“I always wanted to make my mother proud. I came from a single-parent household and my Mom raised me and my younger and older brother. But it’s my daughter that keeps me motivated everyday, I’m with her everyday she asks questions and we talk about football. I pray everyday I play football and I pray that I’m doing this for my daughter…she’s the key to all my motivation and success.”
Bussey’s blog, natebussey.tumblr.com, is a collection of Nate’s press, interviews and game photos, but it’s the many pictures of a proud and happy father with a beaming daughter that is most eye-catching (a caption under one of their photos reads, “Someday I’ll meet my Prince Charming but MY DADDY will always be my King.”)
It was no surprise that on this momentum of success and motivation, that Nate continued to impress, in preparation for his Pro Day. His critics complained that he was too small for the NFL, so he gained 11 pounds of muscle. His detractors warned that with the new weight, his speed would suffer; he clocked his fastest 40 at his Pro Day at 4.49. Athletically, he wowed his onlookers – at 228lbs., he had a 39” vertical, a 10’1” broad jump and a ridiculous 4.2 shuttle.
Showing his power, quickness, speed and agility all came through the work he put in with Clif Marshall at Ignition.
“Clif Marshall taught me the technique of how to diet and how to workout to gain weight. He had me on a great plan on gaining weight at a pro rate over a period of time.”
“Nate, what’s the one word you would use to describe your training regiment leading to your success at the Pro Day?”
“I went to Naples, FLA with Clif Marshall, and Team Ignition, and the experience I had with those guys, training with those guys, high spiritual guys that really like to train definitely helped my progress. They all came from different programs and are great athletes. This was a blessing. I got the confidence that I needed. My strength coach always knew that I would be a top performer come pro day and to find out that I was a top performer, I teared up. That was a goal I had set on January 6th and it came true March 16th “.
Not only is versatility the act and process of being multi-faceted, it is also the ability to be different people. From fashion guru to father, offensive pistol to defensive hammer, punt blocker to fumble recoverer, Nate Bussey has done and can do it all. Only the highest of the highly skilled can excel on both sides of the ball and on every specialty team. His top grade skills include speed, quickness, play-making ability, pursuit and open-field tackling. His most sought after skill and accomplishment should be his versatility, as he has excelled at every position he has played, even with a few years experience (he was a Big Ten Honorable Mention at LB, even though he only started in his Junior year).
Any 3-4 team, with needs in kickoff or punt coverage with a veteran OLB, should giggle with glee, as they select this unsung steal of the draft, as no player has this combination of maturity, work ethic and dedication as Nate Bussey.