- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green heard about lightly recruited defensive back Tra’ves Bush from one person after another.

The message was consistent: Fantastic player, better person.

Then came Green’s last first impression.

“I thought he was one of the greatest kids I’d ever met,” Green said.

That became clear during Bush’s freshman year when his old teammates at Strom Thurmond High School in Johnston, S.C., slumped early in the season. Bush wrote an emotional letter stressing the value of hard work and sticking together to his high school coach, who in turn read it to a team that ultimately recovered to reach the playoffs.

“His coach said that was one of the things that really made them understand what it meant to play the game, and that’s Tra’ves,” Green said.

His on-field work — with the traits Bush wrote about two years ago serving as the underpinnings — is strong, too.

More than halfway into his career, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Bush has developed into one of the crucial pieces of Navy’s defense. He returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown last week as the Midshipmen (2-0) trounced Western Kentucky. On Saturday, Bush will return to his home state as Navy faces No. 10 South Carolina (2-0).

Bush’s only career starts came late last season against Arkansas State and East Carolina, but his essentially reserve role belies his value for the Mids. He’s played more than 40 snaps in back-to-back games, and functions as the fifth defensive back when Navy goes to a nickel package.

Green’s penchant for playing extra defensive backs and Navy’s mounting injuries at linebacker could lead to even more playing time this week for Bush, who grew up about 45 minutes from the Gamecocks’ campus.

“He lets you know he’s not afraid to put more than four DBs in,” Bush said. “You have to be ready to go at any position you might be needed. Injuries can happen anytime, so the fifth player is just as important as the first person.”

Bush’s high school played in the state championship game at Williams-Brice Stadium in his freshman year, so he’s more familiar than most other Mids with this week’s destination. Still, Navy didn’t emerge as a possible landing spot until after his prep career concluded.

When his senior season ended, Bush’s only offer was from Division I-AA Gardner-Webb. Maybe it was because he was undersized. Perhaps he wasn’t the quickest defensive back prospect. Either way, he was ignored by big schools.

Just after Christmas, Navy contacted Bush with some interest.

“When I first heard about here, I really didn’t think too much about it,” Bush said. “But my family talked to me more and more about it and after I came on a visit I was sold.”

Bush agreed to come to Navy about a week after signing day, and quickly etched out a place on special teams. He was already known as a strong hitter by the end of last year, not to mention a studious approach to the game.

“If you say one thing to Tra’ves one day, by that day or the next he’s going to have it fixed,” safety Kwesi Mitchell said. “That’s what [coach Ken Niumatalolo] means by no-nonsense. He takes everything serious.”

That includes getting better. Green said Bush attended every offseason workout this season and prioritized becoming faster as well as stronger, and the difference is noticeable to the veteran defensive coordinator.

Bush plays as much as many starters on Navy’s defense, and is tied for fifth on the team with nine tackles (one for loss). His interception return for a score was the Mids’ first since Ram Vela’s against Army in 2008.

“You’ve just seen him get better and better and better because he comes to work every day,” Niumatalolo said. “Fortunately for us, he’s a guy who to this point has had a great season.”

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