Bush: 'It was hard to understand why'

Why?

It's a question so many of us have asked, time and time again, oftentimes without any logical answer.

It's a question linebacker Devin Bush asked over and over again a year ago.

All he wanted to know, was why.

Why was he injured? Why did the strong season he was having have to come to a crashing halt? Why him? Why then? Why?

"It was tough. It was hard to understand why," Bush shared with me from the heart. "That was the biggest thing for me. I was trying to understand why for a long time. Some things happen for a reason, some are out of your control.

"It was tough. It was tough to watch my teammates from the sideline. It was tough to watch from my own house when they were traveling and winning. I had to be strong for myself and for them as well. I tried my best to stay in high spirits and as involved as I could."

Bush suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 18, 2020, something that tore at the young linebacker.

At that point in the season, Bush, the Steelers No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, had quickly become a staple for the defense. Through five games last year he had 16 tackles and one sack. The year before, Bush led the Steelers and all NFL rookies in tackles (109) and solo tackles (72), while becoming the only Steelers rookie ever to eclipse 100 tackles.

And then it all came crashing to a halt before the 2020 season even hit the midway point.

And he just kept asking one question. Why?

"It wasn't until around the five-month mark that I just stopped asking why," said Bush. "I was getting back to normal, walking a little bit more. After that, after the tough beginning, which was the worst part, I stopped asking why.

"When I was questioning why, I finally realized sometimes there just is no why."

While there might not be a why, there was a how, and that how is the way Bush attacked coming back from that injury.

It's a comeback that had his teammates select him as the Steelers recipient of the 2021 Ed Block Courage Award. The award is voted on by the players and given to a player who has shown courage either coming back from an injury or a life-altering situation and was presented to him at the Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field on Tuesday.

"It's one of those one-time things you want to win," said Bush. "It does feel good to know your peers acknowledge the work you did to play football again, to overcome an adversity you were faced with. That is the good and bad part of it. You just don't want to have to be injured so that you do win it."

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The comeback wasn't the easiest, filled with physical and mental challenges Bush had to overcome. And he had to overcome them under less-than-ideal circumstances while dealing with the protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic that made being around his teammates tougher than under normal circumstances.

"There were some days I felt like I was just here in Pittsburgh, just someone living here and not like being here for football," said Bush, who said his dog, Tank, and family were his main support system. "That was tough. The protocols were a tough part of it. There were times I didn't see my teammates as much. It was tough with everything going on. The isolation sucked really bad. It was tough.

"Watching the game from a different perspective was tough. At some points I felt like I wasn't even on the team. It was just tough."

That wasn't the only mental challenge. There was the same feeling so many athletes go through when placed on the Reserve/Injured list. Keep in mind, Bush is someone who has trained his whole life, who has spent his life being physically fit, being able to handle all of the physical challenges thrown at him. And now, he was injured, and it was a struggle.

"Getting out of that hole of feeling useless was tough," said Bush. "I wasn't able to use my leg. I wasn't able to do anything. That was the biggest part for me, the hardest part, just getting over that hump of getting back to being who I was."

As tough as it was, he got over the hump. He pushed himself, forced himself to go outside of his comfort zone, and did everything that was asked of him from the athletic training and medical staffs.

"I learned the determination I have once I set my mind to things," said Bush. "I tend to do them at a high level. My will to win. I just think my mental toughness, how I was always mentally tough, but this was another test for me and still is. I am working my way through it."

Once Bush was given the green light to return to physical activity, he attacked it like no other. All through offseason workouts he would be on the field working on his own, pushing himself to the limit, doing everything he could to get his knee back to where it was before the injury.

"I just love football," said Bush. "Getting back to football was a big determination factor for me. It was my first time going through an injury so there was a sense of fear in there as well. The unknown. It was just a whole bunch of collective things knowing I had to get back out there and showcase my talent and be a part of the game again."

His efforts didn't go unnoticed. There were many days when Coach Mike Tomlin stood watching Bush work, shouting encouragement, challenging him, and giving him that push he just might have needed.

"He is a football lover. And he can't hide it," said Tomlin. "It helps give him a winning edge in terms of facing the adversity that the game presents. He loves every component of the game. He likes practice. He likes walkthrough. He likes film sessions.

"I think that's the spirit in which he attacked his rehabilitation and that's why he's out there doing some of the things that he's doing."

Bush returned to the field in the preseason, getting back in less than a year since tearing his ACL. The timing wasn't a driving force, but he didn't want to miss any more time than he already had.

"It was a small goal," said Bush. "It wasn't one of those ones where I was focused on trying to get back as fast as I could. I knew I was going to take my time, do the things necessary before I got the chance to go out there and compete. I was pushing myself a little bit. Sometimes I had to stop, slow down, ramp it up again, and then slow down.

"I wasn't trying to get back fast, but I knew once the season rolled around, I wanted to be okay enough to be able to go out there and compete. I wanted to be back on the field.

"Being out last year, coming back this year, I appreciate it a lot more than I did before."

About the Ed Block Courage Award: Since 1984, the Ed Block Courage Award annually honors one player from every NFL team who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected by a vote of their teammates to recognize both on- and off-the-field extra efforts along with their ability to overcome great adversity, whether it be personal or professional. The award is named in honor of Ed Block, the long-time head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts.

For more information on the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, visit www.edblock.org.

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