NFL stars stay true to Big Blue

LOGAN, Utah – There might be uncertainty when it comes to the status of the 2011 NFL season, but with spring football wrapping up around colleges across the country, there are at least two current professional stars who’ll know that they’ll always be welcomed back onto a football field.In town for last Saturday’s Blue and White Spring Game, Pro Bowl offensive tackle Donald Penn and Super Bowl winning cornerback Jarrett Bush were all smiles as the Aggies took the field, happy to put the current National Football League labor dispute behind them as they watched current players from their alma mater square off. For both Penn and Bush, the chance to take a break from the drama of the labor negotiations and enjoy the sights and sounds of spring practice has been an experience worth savoring.”This has been a great opportunity for me to come back and show my support, and getting to come out and coach up the kids a little bit,” said Bush, who initially signed as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers after graduating from Utah State in 2006. “It’s been fun,” he continued. “It’s been great to come out and show my support for this program and the USU family. As an alum, it is always great to come back and to show the kids that when you do graduate you need to come back and show your support and give back.”Both players were more than happy to give back and show their support on Saturday, spending over a half-hour mingling with fans and current players after the scrimmage. Before the game they reunited with fellow Aggie football alums and spent time talking with current members of the Utah State football team. After going undrafted and working their way up the NFL ranks, Penn and Bush have a firm grasp on the challenges of playing for a school not in the national spotlight, but stressed to current Aggies that football alone won’t get them through life. “The first thing that I told the guys was that you can’t do anything without school; you can’t get to college and play college football without being good in school,” said Penn, who recorded his first professional touchdown this past season when he caught a 1-yard reception from Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. “I told them that I got my degree and that is something that no one can take away from me,” he added. “Some of us are lucky enough to keep playing and some of us aren’t, so get that degree so you at least have something to fall back on.”Penn and Bush may have both gone undrafted out of Utah State, but neither is flying under the radar now. Joining a long list of former Aggies who have gone onto NFL success (including Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and Chiefs wide receiver Kevin Curtis), both Penn and Bush had breakthrough 2010 campaigns. Yet even with their newfound stardom, both players have stayed true to the college program which gave them their first big break, continuing to follow up on Aggie sports even in the midst of their own NFL season.”Anytime they are on television I am on my couch screaming,” Bush joked. “I definitely pay attention to this program because I was here. I have history here and that’s what it is all about.”Penn echoed his former teammate, joking that he likes to tell his fellow Buccaneers to watch out for the Aggies on the football field. Never able to beat rival Brigham Young during his own time in Logan, Penn took special notice when the Aggies snapped a 17-year losing drought to the Cougars this past season.”I loved it!” Penn exclaimed. “I still talk about it, because I was here when we were up by thirty-something points and they came back to beat us. I have a bad taste in my mouth about BYU.”While they were more than happy to reminisce on their time at Utah State and talk about their recent accomplishments in the NFL, both Bush and Penn stressed that when it comes to college football programs on the rise, something exciting is taking place in Logan. Penn, who noted that several current Utah State players have a legitimate shot to play in the NFL, said the program’s rebirth is a credit to third-year head coach Gary Andersen, whose reputation as a relentless motivator and teacher isn’t just media hype.”Now that I have come here and I have seen it, he is really taking this place in the right direction and I think that they have the right guy,” said Penn. “I’m excited to see what he is going to do with this program. He told me we are still in the process, we are just starting and the process is looking good.”Bush backed his fellow Aggie up, saying that the attitude of the players, and the excitement of the fans, was more than telling to the influence Andersen has had on the program, and reminds him of the football crazed influence in his current NFL hometown. “We have a great coaching staff, the kids look like they want to be here playing football and you have to appreciate that. It’s a little slice of what is done in Green Bay and that’s what I see here. Hopefully we can keep it going and if we do you never know what can happen,” Bush said emphatically.For his part, Andersen couldn’t have been happier about the visit from the two NFL stars. Using Bush and Penn as an example to his players that even so-called “small school” players can go on to bigger and better things, he was confident after the Blue and White game that their visit, and continued NFL success, would have a significant impact on the moral of his players.”To have Donald and Jarrett talking to our kids is invaluable,” Andersen said. “One of them played in the Super Bowl and the other in the Pro Bowl at left tackle. Having them here was a big part of the scrimmage.”Of course, Andersen has had some help when it’s come to building up the status of Aggie football. Penn, who graduated prior to the building of the Jim and Carol Laub Athletics-Academics Complex, couldn’t help but marvel at the facilities in Logan, and predicated that commitment of the University in producing nationally recognized student-athletes is sure to continue. “I think that we have one of the best facilities on the West coast of any college,” said Penn, who joked that Utah State’s increased national exposure has allowed him to brag about his alma mater in the Tampa Bay locker room.”I think it is really going to start help recruiting, as it already has,” he added. “It’s good; Logan is starting to get on the map a little bit more.”On the national map or not, Bush and Penn continue to hold nothing but the fondest of memories of their time in Logan, both on and off the field. From the bonds they forged with their teammates to the natural beauty of Cache Valley, they were proud to wear the Aggie Blue and White, and even prouder to represent the people and the place that helped launch them to professional stardom. “It wasn’t just one moment, it was everything along the journey,” Bush said when reflecting on his college experience. “It was the camaraderie; hanging out in the dorms, going to the cafeteria with the teammates, walking to class with the teammates, going to class, doing the up downs and running the hills. It is all of those moments that I keep and that is what I choose to cherish.”-USU-

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