Former South Carolina State defensive standout Rafael Bush, who recently retired from the National Football League after a solid nine-year career, had a stern message for the 2019 Bulldogs on Monday night during an assembly at Staley Hall on the campus.
Bush, a member of the S.C. State secondary during some of the Bulldogs’ most productive teams in the current Buddy Pough era, accepted an invitation from assistant head coach/defensive line coach David Blanchard and Pough to speak to the team and share his experiences.
The Williston native and former Williston-Elko High School standout didn’t mince words as he touted the S.C. State football legacy and told the team that “5-6 records are not the norm around here.”
“I once occupied the same seats you all are now sitting in,” Bush said. “I’ve been gone 10 years and some things have changed, but despite those changes, most of you enjoy a great privilege of getting a free education and doing something you enjoy.
“But that privilege comes with sacrifices,” said Bush, who pointed out the ups and downs in both college football and in the NFL but also appealed to the players to work harder, get better and bring back that S.C. State winning tradition.
“I don’t think we ever lost more than three games in a season (actually the Bulldogs were 7-4 his first season on the team) and we were the class of the MEAC,” he said. “We had that mentality that winning was mandatory. We had goals and were determined to reach them as a unit. And, most of the time, we did so.
“What are your goals and aspirations? Are you willing to work harder to get better? Those of you who are leaders must take charge, pull your teammates along and make them better. At the same time, you must hold your teammates accountable. If one of them is not getting it done, you want to encourage him, but you also have to call him out and let him know he has to do better; he has to earn your respect.
“Nothing comes free in life. No one’s going to give you something for nothing, especially in football, a tough sport that teaches you about real life. As a member of S.C. State football teams, I learned discipline, I learned consistency. Like many of you, I may not have been the most talented, but I knew the value of hard work, I knew the value of teamwork, and I knew the value of being accountable to your teammates. During my playing days, if you were not doing your part, you just didn’t play.”
Bush transferred to S.C. State after a year on scholarship at North Greenville University in Tigerville. As one of the top high school running backs as a senior at Williston, he had aspirations of continuing his career as a Bulldog. But S.C. State had a crowded backfield that included two of the all-time top rushers at the university and in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference – DaShawn Baker and Will Ford.
After a year at North Greenville, Bush walked on at S.C. State as a defensive back. He then became one of the top safeties for the Bulldogs.
Bush lauded his teammates and coaches during his career as a Bulldog. He played on back-to-back 10-win squads (2008 and 2009) that captured consecutive MEAC championships and made consecutive appearances in the prestigious NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
As a senior, he was the Bulldogs’ third-leading tackler with 46 total stops, including 38 solos and four tackles for loss. Bush also had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a score, and a fumble recovery which he also took to the end zone for six points.
During his S.C. State career, Bush played alongside a number of players who were either drafted by NFL teams or given free agent opportunities. But he warned current players that only a few get such opportunities, so it’s important to get an education and earn a degree.
“I’m sure you have heard the statistics (about players making it to the professional level),” Bush said. “Only about 1 percent of college players will make it to the professional ranks.
"And among those that do make it, most careers are short (four years or less).”
Bush was one of three Bulldogs who got pro opportunities in 2010. Fellow defensive back Philip Adams of Rock Hill was a seventh-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers, while Bush and wide receiver Oliver “Trey” Young signed as free agents with Atlanta and Carolina, respectively.
Bush spent nine years in the league at safety with five different teams – Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans (two stints), Detroit and Buffalo. He retired just a few weeks ago.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to ‘play on Sunday,' as they say,” Bush said. “I was never intimidated by having to go against or play alongside players from major schools. I was well-prepared by the coaches and others from S.C. State.
“Take advantage of the opportunity you now have. Believe me, the four or so years you are here will go by fast. But work hard and try to achieve your dreams, while also changing the culture here. Be a part of the legacy here.”
Bush and his wife, Tonya Giles Bush - a triplet who played softball for S.C. State - reside in Fort Mill.