JOHNSTON, S.C. --- Tra'ves Bush walked into Lee Sawyer's office one day last spring, and the Strom Thurmond football coach noticed something was bugging one of his top players.
Bush announced he had been accepted into the state's Governor's School, which would place him in Charleston nearly all of June to take classes in subjects like leadership and Web design. He looked terrified, apologetic.
"We demand a lot in the offseason, and he was afraid his teammates were going to see it as a way of him getting out of something," Sawyer said. "He was about the last person I had to worry about missing workouts."
Bush called Sawyer at least once a week that month, wanting updates on his teammates and making sure they were staying motivated even if he wasn't there to police their commitment.
Bush's leadership and refusal to compromise the Rebels' success extended into the fall when the senior linebacker was the heart of one of the state's best defenses. Bush is The Augusta Chronicle South Carolina Player of the Year for leading Strom Thurmond to a 12-1 season and making 172 tackles on a defense that shut out six opponents and gave up eight points per game.
"The best player on the best unit we saw all year," Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said.
Well before Bush (5-10, 185) became the player who would make more tackles than anyone in the area, his first task was tackling his mother. When she signed her son up for football in North Augusta in second grade, Sabrina Bush-Brown would often take Tra'ves to the park and attempt to teach him tackling technique.
"Show me how you're going to tackle," she would tell him. "You're going to have to hit them low."
Destructive on the field, Bush was unusually content at home, whether rustling through a book or transfixed with sports on television.
"I can't think of a time he was even in trouble," said his father, Scotty Brown. "Maybe (once) forgetting to take out the garbage or something."
As Bush grew up, he became able to make so many tackles, Sawyer explained, because of his instincts and his devotion to learning his opponent's tendencies.
"He knows what the other people do so well," he said.
Bush, who is in the top 10 of his class of about 200, likes to explain things with football metaphors. He can be quiet, his mother says, except in a football environment, where Bush said it's natural for him to be the one to organize the team. Like after its final game of the season, a state quarterfinal playoff loss to Central, when Bush texted his teammates to meet him at the school. They chatted about the game and their careers, which were now complete,
"Stuff like that is second-nature to me," Bush said.
Bush, who has scholarship offers from Division I-AA Newberry and Presbyterian, said he will pick a place to play football based on its academics. He wants to be an engineer because he excels at math and is seeking offers beyond the two he holds from liberal arts colleges.
Furman coach Bobby Lamb was at the school recently and, for a moment, Sawyer became a salesman.
"If you're lucky enough to get him, you'll be calling me back in a year saying thank you," Sawyer remembered saying. "He'd be a good ambassador for any program."
Bush, at the Governor's School this summer, found a weight room near his dorm so he could work out. He regularly joined the counselors for 5:30 a.m. runs. It was obvious he remained committed when he was back at Strom Thurmond for workouts in July. Sawyer saw him place two 45-pound weights on each side of a bench press bar and easily hoist the weight four times.
For Bush, this summer represented more than honoring his commitment away from school, his mother said.
"He needed to get out of his comfort zone," she said. "He's becoming his own person, taking initiative. That's what I tell him -- take initiative and everything will work out."
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over six days, The Augusta Chronicle will announce its all-area players for fall sports:
TUESDAY: Cross Country
THURSDAY: Georgia football
FRIDAY: South Carolina football
SATURDAY: Independent football
SCHOOL: Strom Thurmond
CLASS: Senior POSITION: LB/RB
HEIGHT: 5-10 WEIGHT: 185
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Started three years in varsity football. Led the area in tackles (172) this season; scored six TDs on offense. Scholarship offers from Presbyterian and Newberry.
Q: Besides hard work, what's the main reason you have been successful?
A: Support from family, including grandmothers (Mae Bush and Betty Brown).
Q: Best advice ever received?
A: Any of the life lessons from coaches, which came in meetings every Wednesday after practice.
Q: Top priority if you were president?
Q: Pet peeve?
Q: Greatest ambition?
A: To be successful and help my family.
"If you're lucky enough to get him, you'll be calling me back in a year saying thank you. He'd be a good ambassador for any program." -- Lee Sawyer, Strom Thurmond football coach, on what he remembers telling Furman University football coach about Tra'ves Bush