MORE Devin Bush Jr. made sure to take a moment to thank those who helped him.
A sophomore, Michigan's leading tackler and found himself with a slew of postseason honors this year: Second- and third-team All-American nods, a first-team All-Big Ten selection and Michigan's Zatkoff Award for linebacker of the year.
"Those awards, I just thank everybody for being there for me," Bush said this week. "Being there when I needed them. The coaches, the whole staff, all my family. That's who I give big ups to."
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Individual awards on the mantle are nice. Some of them might have come a bit earlier than Bush expected.
But Michigan's interior missile didn't come to Ann Arbor from South Florida for individual awards. He came here for wins.
And in 2017, he knows he and his teammates didn't find enough of them.
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“I’m excited for (those awards),” he says. “But I’m not very pleased with the year we had.”
At broad glance, Bush had plenty of reasons to be happy with the way 2017 played out. He earned the starting spot as Michigan's lead middle linebacker and posted a team-high 94 tackles (9 1/2 for loss) to go along with five sacks, eight pass breakups and an interception.
Michigan's defense ranked No. 3 nationally through the regular season in yards allowed per game (268.6) and 14th in points allowed (18.3). And, despite losing 10 starters to graduation and the NFL draft, this year's group has a chance to finish with a better total yards allowed number than the 2016 unit that finished tied for No. 1 nationally in total defense.
Michigan's Chase Winovich, left, and Devin Bush tackle Ohio State's J.T. Barrett in the first quarter Nov. 25. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
"The one thing I was worried about with him a little was, he's not the biggest guy in the world," Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said of Bush (5 feet 11, 232 pounds) last month. "How will he weather that long Big Ten season and would he be able to keep playing at a high level with all the (bumps and bruises)?
"I think he's handled it very well."
Not many would argue, though Bush knows Michigan didn't do enough this season to turn potential into victories.
Bush, defensive end Rashan Gary, linebacker Khaleke Hudson, corners David Long and Lavert Hill and safety Josh Metellus were all first-year sophomore starters for the Wolverines this season.
At times, things went really well. But Bush is quick to note the unit can be better.
“We’ve talked about it,” Bush said. “Those (losses) were games where we had to learn and grow together. This was our first year playing with each other, our first year starting. Those type of games taught us a lot about ourselves and (showed us) what we can prove on as a group and as a whole.”
Devin Bush celebrates a sack against Cincinnati in the first quarter Sept. 9. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Going forward, Bush has already assumed a leadership role for the 2018 group. Not just the defense, but the team as a whole.
Bush thanked senior captain and fellow linebacker, Mike McCray for teaching him the ropes of what it means to be a Big Ten linebacker and a leader during the team banquet earlier this week.
He also knows everything gets harder from here. After a hot start to the 2017 season, Bush was forced to adjust to the way teams attacked him with blocking schemes as the year wore on.
That process will only continue in 2018. But Bush knows he'll have to figure out a way to overcome it.
Bush was one of the top-rated players in Michigan's acclaimed 28-man 2016 recruiting class . Moving into next season, 17 of those players have a clear path toward starting jobs. Those who don't win top spots will no doubt be in rotations.
Michigan's 2016 football recruits
So as Michigan prepares to finish its season in the Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina on Jan. 1, Bush says the team's underclassmen have two goals: Send the seniors out in style and gain momentum for what will be an extremely important 2018 offseason .
"We’re just focused on winning this bowl game and getting to the offseason so we can get back training,” he said. “Get healthy again, recover and then let’s get back at it for next year.
"It’d be a good feeling to have a ‘W’ for these seniors, and give us a chance to win a big game. It’d give us some confidence and some momentum into the offseason.”
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Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.
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