Tuesday, August 16, 2005 | LOS ANGELES – One of Reggie Bush’s aspirations when he left for the University of Southern California from La Mesa’s Helix High was to put together a career that would rank him as one of San Diego’s greatest running backs. Now, understand, that’s not an easy club to join.
USC’s Marcus Allen, a Lincoln alumnus, set the standard when he won the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honor, in 1981. Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam, from La Jolla Country Day, matched him in 1994 and then Texas’ Ricky Williams, from Patrick Henry, joined the club in 1998.
If we limit the club to running backs from San Diego high schools, let’s not overlook Terrell Davis just because he doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy on his mantel. The Lincoln alum was an NFL and Super Bowl MVP with the Denver Broncos.
“I don’t think about where I want to rank among them, but I do think about them coming out of San Diego,” Bush said between two-a-day workouts at Howard Jones Field. “I want to be one of the greatest running backs to come out of San Diego.”
With or without a Heisman, Bush’s credentials already place him among San Diego’s greatest. Last year as a sophomore he was a Heisman finalist while leading USC to a second straight national title. This year, Sports Illustrated lists Bush as the magazine’s Heisman favorite and put him on the cover of Monday’s issue.
But here’s the scary part: Reggie Bush is just beginning to tap his greatness.
The nation’s most electrifying all-purpose back wants to show he is a complete football player, beginning with the Trojans’ season opener on Sept. 3 at Hawaii.
“There are a lot of things I can do to improve,” Bush said. “Over the summer I worked on adding the physical aspect to my game. Everybody knows that I can run and what I can do in the open field, but I want to add running between the tackles. I want to work on becoming a more complete running back. I want to get my pass blocking better.”
Bush is 7 pounds heavier this year at 6 feet, 202 pounds and intent on showing he’s more than Mr. Outside, a complement to USC’s Mr. Inside, junior LenDale White, the team’s leading rusher, who gets most of the carries between the tackles.
There is some luck that goes with capturing the Heisman voters’ attention at the right time. Bush was a year early last season as a true sophomore. USC quarterback Matt Leinart won the Heisman during what was considered to be his last season before he surprised everyone by returning as a fifth-year senior.
But even Leinart calls Bush the best college football player in the country, and he said that last year.
Bush’s 2,330 all-purpose yards in 2004 were the most by a USC player since Allen’s Heisman Trophy season. He rushed for 908 yards and six touchdowns on just 143 carries for an average of 6.3 yards per carry, caught 43 passes for 509 yards (11.8 avg.) and seven touchdowns and returned two punts for touchdowns.
He had 34 plays of 20 yards or more and eight of 50 or more. Without Bush’s three long touchdown receptions against Virginia Tech, USC loses. Without Bush’s touchdown runs of 65 and 84 yards against UCLA, USC loses. Such losses could have cost Leinart the Heisman.
“We know we’ll see everybody’s best game no matter who we play,” Bush said. “We have to focus on each game step by step and play each game as if it was a bowl game.”
Heisman votes can be influenced by wins and losses, highlight films and prominent ESPN broadcasters backing one player (as was the case in 1992 when San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk was the runner-up while ESPN’s Lee Corso relentlessly pushed Miami’s long-forgotten Gino Torretto).
But one place where numbers don’t lie is in the American marketplace, and at USC’s campus bookstore Bush’s No. 5 jersey sells for $70 and Leinart’s No. 11 for $50.
USC’s fans know it when they open their wallet. Leinart knows it, even as he hoists the Heisman. That Reggie Bush is the best college football player in America – and already ranked among San Diego’s greatest running backs – is the worst kept secret in the game.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com). You can e-mail him at