When the Gophers were 1-6 last year and needed a reason for hope, Foster Bush provided it. The youngest player on the team, coach Jerry Kill said, also had one of its brightest futures, but was redshirting to protect it.
"He might be able to start for us right now," Kill said of his 18-year-old tackle late last October. "I'm trying not to do that, though. ... He's a great talent."
Now the Gophers need more good news, after the concussion-induced retirement of right tackle Jimmy Gjere less than three weeks before the season opener. And maybe Bush, who is fighting to inherit Gjere's spot, is providing it once again.
Coming off knee surgery last winter, Bush "is trying to get caught up, [and] the last three or four practices, Foster's done very well. He's had good practices," Kill said. "He needed all that work. So now he's making up for what he didn't get done in the spring."
He is, and he's doing it with the knowledge that Gjere's absence means it's almost certain that Bush will get playing time this season, in his role as primary backup to right tackle Josh Campion. "I go out there with that in mind," Bush said. "In the back of my head, I know I really need to get this right."
His knee wasn't right after a season in which he could practice but never play, so he had it "cleaned up" in the offseason. That meant the Menasha, Wis., teenager was limited during spring drills, too, so he wasn't the same player when fall camp opened. "He was rusty, and he's put on 20 pounds," Kill said of the 300-pounder, but he has improved as camp went on. The extra year means he also knows his position well.
"Last year was a bit of a grind, but now it's second nature to me. It's a lot of situational stuff I'm learning right now," he said. His slow start in camp was as much mental as physical, he believes. "I talked to Coach about that. He said I was pushing way too hard to impress guys that are already on my side," Bush said. "I wasn't just out there having fun. So I come out there with a little different approach."