To say that last Wednesday was a historic day for USC football and the Athletic Department would be quite the understatement.
On June 10, USC ended its disassociation with one of the most dynamic college football players ever in Trojan running back great Reggie Bush, the same day that the NCAA’s mandated 10-year disassociation between the University and Bush expired. Athletic director Mike Bohn made it clear the University wanted to end the disassociation the very day it was permitted to do so as a sign that Reggie was unequivocally back — as if he had never left.
“I’ve dreamed of this day for 10-plus years, and I’m excited to come home!” Bush said in the USC Athletics press release announcing the decision. He later added in an interview with Colin Cowherd on The Herd that the decade-long disassociation period had been a difficult one; he struggled with self-confidence issues and had to deal with plenty of backlash during his 11-year NFL career after he and USC were levied some of the harshest sanctions the NCAA has ever imposed. And it’s hard to blame him — Reggie was the man at USC, and all of a sudden, he was ostracized from the school where he became one of the greatest players in college football history. Understandably, that experience took a toll.
But now, he’s back, and presumably, much of that weight — though perhaps not all of it — has been lifted off of his shoulders. As it pertains specifically to USC fans, though, let’s be totally honest: Not much about that particular era of USC football had ever changed.
The NCAA’s sanctions — vacated wins, postseason bans, scholarship losses — didn’t change the fact that USC had college football’s most dominant team from 2003 to 2005. Trojan fans will claim the 2004 BCS National Championship to the grave and don’t give two shits what anyone else thinks. Bush’s Heisman Trophy forfeiture in 2010 didn’t change the fact that his 2005 season was one for the books. I’ll try to make this as cheesy as I can because I know no better way to put it: The record books may have been wiped clean, but the memories persist. And besides, last Wednesday didn’t formally restore any chapters in said history books anyway.
OK. So what now?
At least from the look of things, Reggie seems to be all in on his return to USC. And in the interview with Cowherd, a consistent theme emerged: He wants to Make USC Gr — no, no. Not that. Let’s word that differently: Bush wants to help re-create the USC program that once expected a Rose Bowl appearance at the bare minimum year in and year out.
There are many ways to do that, of course, and — warning, unpopular opinion — many of those don’t require the removal of the Trojans’ current head coach. (That’s for another column.)
If USC football wants to become the elite program many Trojan fans are accustomed to, and if it wants to let Reggie be a part of that transformation, it’ll allow Bush to become one of the most impactful recruiters the school, the conference and the country have ever seen.
Think about it this way: USC can throw the old adages at top prospects all it wants, and I’m sure it’s already doing that: “Look at all our championships, check out all our Heismans, examine all our draft picks,” yadda yadda yadda. It carries a certain weight; USC does have plenty to offer in terms of player development that holds true even in the presence of that aforementioned head coach. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, cornerbacks coach Donte Williams or even head coach Clay Helton can say those things and they’ll present a strong case for five-star recruits and NFL hopefuls to don the cardinal and gold.
But a beefed-up recruiting staff can only get the Trojans so far. And if those words are instead coming from Reggie freakin’ Bush? That weight is much, much heavier. It’s hard to ignore the persuasion of a guy who became the co-face (see: Kobe Bryant) of Los Angeles sports while he was there. Coaches and recruiting personnel can promise elite high school students hypotheticals: “Look at what we can do for you,” while Bush can testify from personal experience: “Look at what they did for me.”
This isn’t to say that I’m only glad Bush is a Trojan again because USC can use him as a tool to haul in the Korey Foremans of the world; the connection is much more personal. He should be publicly and officially celebrated as the USC legend he is, he should get his Heisman back, he should be led to the 50-yard line for a standing ovation during every quarter break of every USC home game for the next 20 years. The Athletic Department should give Bush as much time as he wants to reacclimate to the campus and the University — after all, it’s been 10 years apart.
But Bush made it clear that he wants to help bring USC back to the promised land, and there are tangible ways to do that. If Helton and Bohn’s aspirations are similar, the Trojans must recruit, recruit, recruit — and bring Reggie along every step of the way.
Nathan Ackerman is a rising junior writing about sports and sociopolitics. He is also a managing editor of Summer Trojan. His column, “Courtside,” ran every other Wednesday.