COLUMBIA — As the Rock Bridge football team left the practice field Tuesday, players gathered their helmets, pads and cleats and headed toward the locker room. One of the Bruins wanted to make sure his teammate had all of his belongings.
“Hey Bush! Don’t forget your tuba,” somebody yelled.
Michael Bush is a member of the Rock Bridge football team and the Rock Bridge marching band.
Bush gets a Friday night experience different from most football players. As a member of the marching band, he spends his halftimes performing rather than in the locker room.
The junior offensive tackle in Bush loves to hit his opponent. The musician in him loves to hit the perfect note. During a home game, he is responsible for pushing back the defensive line and also for pumping up the crowd. Bush can’t imagine his life without one or the other.
“I’m devoted to what I love doing,” Bush said. “I’m stretched pretty thin right now but, in the end, it’s all worth it.”
That devotion comes with a price. While Bush spoke of his activities with a smile, his eyes had bags drooping beneath them. During the week, Bush arrives at school at 6:30 a.m. for band practice and doesn’t leave until 6:30 p.m. with the conclusion of football practice. He missed the majority of last week because of sickness.
Bush began his musical career in elementary school when he began taking piano lessons. He switched a few years later to the tuba, a fitting instrument for a 6-foot-3 offensive lineman. When he got to high school, he wanted to pick up football without dropping his other passion.
“My family has a long line of football players,” Bush said. “My dad and all of his brothers played. I love it.”
Bush spoke with coach A.J. Ofodile before his sophomore season. Bush said the coach was supportive, allowing him to rank his own priorities and figure out how to make it work.
Rock Bridge band director Steve Mathews said he thinks it is great when students want to participate in athletics and the musical program. He says Bush’s performance has not suffered with the double commitment.
“He’s (Bush) able to manage his time well,” Mathews said. “He’s a good communicator to both me and his coach.”
Bush has found similarities in marching band and the football team. His favorite parts of each are the camaraderie and the competition. The competition includes winning both football games and marching competitions. On both squads, the camaraderie stems from constant joking with his teammates. He recalled one band practice where a few people showed up ready to march in gorilla suits. It was quite the wake up call at 6:30 in the morning.
Senior Trey Millard said that, though some members of the team may poke good-natured fun at their music playing teammate, Millard respects Bush’s tendency to always do what he’s supposed to be doing.
“We give him a little trouble for it, not too bad,” Millard said. “We’re all family, so we just kind of make fun of him, but we make fun of everybody.”
Bush knows his teammates support him. However, there have been instances where the opponents have made derogatory comments. It’s hard to hide an athlete wearing full football pads, playing a tuba to the tune of "Hey Baby."
“This year we were playing Jeff City at home and they saw me walking up here (to the field) and they said some colorful things about me,” Bush said. “I got a little heated.”
Usually Bush is able to shrug off anyone who snickers at his variety of talents. He says they don’t know him or the work his does.
“I just tell them, you don’t know what I’m going through,” he said. “You have to try it yourself and then tell me what you think.”
Bush struggled to answer the question of which of his two activities he enjoys more. He does know that once he graduates high school, he hopes to be good enough to play on Saturdays in college.
Whether he’s playing football, the tuba or both remains to be seen.