Bussey muscles up and moves to linebacker


Illinois’ Nate Bussey (18) directs the defense during the spring scrimmage at Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill., on Saturday, April 11, 2008.

By Anthony Zilis

Nate Bussey is built like a linebacker.

The junior, who played safety last season for the Illini, is 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and can run like the wind.

After spending the last two seasons in the secondary, Bussey is making the transition this spring to the position he seems built to play.

“I’m a physical-type person, and I like to get down and dirty, so I enjoy being down in the box,” Bussey said.

Bussey wasn’t always the physical specimen he is now. Coming out of high school, he was listed at 202 pounds, making him too small to even be considered a candidate at linebacker.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

But two offseasons of work in the weight room gave Bussey the body of a linebacker, and the coaches decided to make the switch this spring.

Even with his added strength and abundance of athleticism, the shift will be drastic.

“You go from 10 to 12 yards deep to in the box, it’s a whole different feeling,” Illini co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Dan Disch said. “For him, it’s going to take some time. It’s a transition, but I’ve been pleased with his attitude and his effort, and I think he’s going to help us.”

Switching positions, though, is nothing new for Bussey.

In high school, he played quarterback for Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., where his main offensive weapon was current Illini receiver Arrelious Benn.

Bussey was recruited to play under center for Kent State, Louisville, Colorado and Buffalo, but he decided to go to Illinois to play with his high school teammate Vontae Davis.

“I didn’t feel that I wanted to switch positions, but I wanted to come to a good program and be the best player that I can be,” said Bussey, who was also recruited by Michigan State, Syracuse, UCLA and Connecticut.

Benn was being recruited by the Illini at the same time and eventually signed alongside his friend and teammate, who he’s known since he was six years old.

Now a star receiver for the Illini, Benn doesn’t think Bussey will have any problem adjusting to something new.

“Nate’s an athlete overall. I never looked at Nate as one position. He’s always been in athletics, playing multiple sports,” Benn said, adding that the two played soccer, baseball, basketball and track growing up.

“Whatever Nate has to do, he’s willing to do it,” Benn said.

But even with a work ethic that teammates and coaches laud, competition for a starting spot could be stiff at the linebacker position.

Super-athlete Martez Wilson headlines the group, which also includes sophomores Russell Ellington and Ian Thomas.

But Disch is optimistic about the number of snaps Bussey will see.

“I hope he’s in the two-deep, and I anticipate him being there,” said Disch. “He’s very athletic and can run. He’s just got to get comfortable in there, get some time.”

Bussey’s athleticism was showcased in high school, when he rushed for a team-high 12 touchdowns his senior year.

But when Benn was asked who could run faster, he quickly wrote off the question.

“Come on, man, I got that all the way,” Benn said.

Even though Bussey is happy being a linebacker, he sometimes still feels the itch to get out and pass to his former teammate.

“I come out and throw the ball every day,” Bussey said. “So if it comes down to it, and I have to play (quarterback), I could still do it. I’ve played it all my life.”