Kendall Bussey beginning to show form that attracted Texas A&M’s eye
Texas A&M doesn’t have a starting quarterback, but it has three running backs it can count on in crunch time.
One of them, sophomore Kendall Bussey, played the role of unexpected hero in last week’s 24-14 victory over Nicholls State, rushing for 92 yards on 13 carries in the fourth quarter to lead the Aggies on a pair of scoring drives.
“It was really a good feeling to be able to get in and actually get going,” Bussey said. “I just wanted to make my presence felt and show the guys on the team I can contribute as well.”
Bussey had been buried on the depth chart behind sophomore Trayveon Williams and senior Keith Ford. Williams became the program’s first true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards last season, and the 215-pound Ford showed why the Aggies were glad to land the Oklahoma transfer as he added 669 yards rushing on 126 carries.
Williams and Ford provided such a dominant 1-2 punch in A&M’s one-back offense last season that the other running backs combined for only 20 carries in 10 games against teams from Power Five conferences. Only 20 and 17 of those carries were by junior James White, who opted to transfer to Lamar after the season.
That’s something Bussey also considered.
“It’s hard to say [how close I was to leaving A&M],” Bussey said. “It’s like [head coach Kevin Sumlin] said: I just wanted to play. I was getting better and better as time went on, and I knew I could contribute in some way.”
This summer Sumlin gave Bussey a week to return home to New Orleans and talk to his family about his future. Bussey had a good sounding board in his father, Kendall Bussey Sr., who played at Colorado and Louisiana-Monroe, but in the end they went with a higher authority.
“We’re a praying family,” said the elder Bussey, a former 6-foot-3, 215-pound fullback who is vice president and general manager of Nissan of Picayune. “We believe God doesn’t make any mistakes, and he was there for a reason. We can’t determine what that reason is, but we’ve got to have faith in God that he was there for the right reasons.”
It ended up being an easy decision.
“The thing is I wanted to play,” said Bussey, who had 20 carries for 172 yards last season. “I told Dad I’m not sure how things are going. I knew I just had to have faith, just keep praying about it and keep working hard, which are the main two things, and things will work themselves out. Have some faith. This is where I want to be -- I want to be at Texas A&M, nowhere else. I just had to buckle down, put on my work boots, just keep working hard and just have faith.”
Bussey had a good fall camp, but so did Williams and Ford, who ran rampant for a half at UCLA. Williams ended the game with 203 yards on 22 carries and Ford adding 114 yards on 18 carries. Bussey got four carries for 19 yards, though he said those carries allowed him to get his feet wet.
That paid huge dividends against Nicholls, which held A&M to 90 yards on 25 carries through three quarters. Nicholls’ defense was playing well, but Williams and Ford were both nicked up in part because they had one less day of recovery thanks to the UCLA game being on a Sunday.
The 5-9, 200-pound Bussey made an immediate impact. He ran a career-best 41 yards on his first carry in the fourth quarter. He capped that 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to break the 14-14 tie.
“I didn’t think [a touchdown] was ever going to come,” Bussey said.
On the next drive he helped A&M methodically manhandle Nicholls, at one point carrying the ball seven straight times. It was reminiscent of Bussey’s high school career at Isidore Newman in New Orleans which ended with a knee injury.
“I was pretty explosive [before the injury],” Bussey said. “I feel I’m getting back to those ways. I’m a little bit quicker out of my cuts. I’m a little bit faster straight line down the field, so as that’s improved, I think my game has also improved.”
Bussey’s father sees the difference in his son.
“I knew he had a great offseason,” Bussey Sr. said. “I think he adapted to the new weight coach very well, and he worked extra hard to get his power, speed and everything back.
“I think the first year back when he redshirted, he definitely wasn’t 100 percent. You could just see he started to get better and better and better and stronger. But again, this is the Southeastern Conference. You’ve got to be at the highest of your game to make sure that you’re able to compete at that high level.”
Bussey Sr. is counting on intrasquad competition continuing to make his son better.
“Fortunately for the team and fortunately for him, he’s in a rotation with the top backs in the country,” Bussey Sr. said. “Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford can play for anybody. I think both those guys will have the chance to play at the next level, and that’s who you want to compete with. You want to be in the room with those guys, so they can push you to be the best you can be. You can push each other, then when the time comes it all works out for the team.”
Last week’s performance at Kyle Field also helped the younger Bussey see that staying at A&M was the right decision, Bussey Sr. said.
“He wanted to play football, and sometimes it’s hard when you don’t get the playing time and you’ve been a starter in high school and in middle school,” Bussey Sr. said. “Then you get to college and play in the best conference in football, the SEC, and you are going to compete against the best. So I told him it’s a life lesson. You learn in life that patience is a virtue. You have to wait and you have to trust in God and continue to work hard. I didn’t want him to get bitter. I wanted him to understand the side that sometimes things don’t go as planned, so you have to keep pushing forward.”
The younger Bussey says A&M’s tailbacks can make life easier on the quarterback, whether that’s true freshman Kellen Mond or senior Jake Hubenak, as the Aggies try to push forward after losing starter Nick Starkel to an injury.
“The running game can help carry the team,” he said.
And as for the crowded backfield and only one football to feed it, Sumlin said it’s a long year. There’s time for No. 3 on the depth chart to be No. 1.
“You can see [Bussey’s] value,” Sumlin said. “He can be utilized. He gives us another [option] to be able to run the ball. We can spread it out among those guys.”
NOTES -- Bussey Sr. said he wouldn’t have minded watching his son follow in his footsteps and sign with Colorado, because the quarterback when he played there, Darian Hagan, is now the running backs coach. “I have a lot of respect for that coaching staff there,” Bussey Sr. said. “It’s a beautiful campus. I wanted him to kind of see the world, but in the end it’s his life. I want him to be happy.” ... Bussey Sr. applauded Sumlin for sticking with his son after the younger Bussey’s high school career got cut short by an injury. Bussey’s father also said he believes Clarence McKinney is one of the best running backs coaches in the country, citing his ability to get the most out of the current backs along with Tra Carson, Trey Williams and White. “I kind of paid attention to what he did with all those guys from their first year on,” Bussey Sr. said. “Whatever formula he has, it’s a great formula.” ... It helped A&M during recruiting the younger Bussey that Bussey Sr. played high school football with former A&M secondary coach Terry Joseph, who left for North Carolina after the 2016 season. ... The younger Bussey learned to be good at taking orders. “My dad plays no games academically and on the field,” he said. “I’ve got to be on my Ps and Qs 24-7.” He didn’t have a problem, though, telling his dad he wouldn’t be going to Colorado. “I said, ‘Uhhh, I don’t think that’s for me,’” Bussey said. “It’s kind of far. I like being close to home, which is the thing that brought me here to Texas A&M. I wanted to come to a place where we got a chance to beat those [LSU] Tigers. I’m not a big fan.” ... Bussey, who first pledged to Tennessee, attended the same high school as former Volunteer quarterback Peyton Manning. “He actually comes to Newman a lot, especially during the offseason,” Bussey said. “He’s a really cool guy.” ... The Busseys are big Sumlin fans. “We have a lot of faith in Coach Sumlin and a lot of faith in Coach McKinney,” Bussey Sr. said. “We know everybody wants to win more games, but as a person, he’s a phenomenal person. We trust him, and he stayed firm to everything that he told us.”