Reggie Bush Gives His Unfiltered Feelings On The NCAA And His ‘Full Circle’ Return To College Football

Reggie Bush is one of the greatest college football players of all time, but the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t show up in official record books or in the official list of Heisman winners after being stripped of that title following an NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits during his time at USC.

Bush was made to return his Heisman Trophy by the Heisman Trust and was issued a 10-year ban from associating with his alma mater by the NCAA, effectively being shunned from the sport that he was such an integral part of in the mid-2000s. In 2019, after a 12-year NFL career and a brief tenure with NFL Network, Bush joined Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff show and made his return to the college football world, fittingly making his first road show appearance at the Coliseum for a USC game.

Now, three years later, Bush is still healing from the wounds of old brought by the NCAA, but is loving being back in college football and watching games from the sidelines as part of Fox’s road show — most recently being on hand for Alabama’s escape against Texas. On Monday, we got a chance to sit down with Bush over Zoom on behalf of Wendy’s, who he’s partnered with once again for their ad campaign for college football season, and talk about his return to the college football world. Bush was extremely candid about his mixed emotions returning to the college game initially, his feelings towards the NCAA, and his excitement seeing kids getting the opportunities he never did to profit off their name, image, and likeness.

I want to start with this Wendy’s spot, because it seems like you had a lot of fun with it and the entire premise. What did you think when they came to you with this idea and then how was it executing it with the team?

I thought it was great, man. I thought it was awesome. You know, when they came to me with the idea of just doing a comedy skit around the Heisman Trophy, but with the pretzel pub, you know, that was genius. And then when we got a chance to get on set, do the spots and the scenes, they were a lot of fun, man. Honestly, I had so much fun with it. You know, I got a chance to, I think, work on some comedy that I wasn’t sure I had in me [laughs].

But just pushing myself to different limits, and now stepping into this kind of this comedy role through commercials while promoting a brand like Wendy’s, it’s awesome. It’s an awesome opportunity. And the director was great. Really made it easy. A lot of it was improv too, honestly. So that’s the other part as well, like the commercials that we that we shot, most of them were improv. I didn’t get a script a week before or even a day before. I actually called when we had a conference call — I was a little worried cause I hadn’t seen the script yet and I was like, ‘Hey, you know, we gotta do a commercial, obviously, I know it’s a big deal and I want to really do a great job.’ And I’m a perfectionist. I like to work hard. And I was just thinking, ‘Hey, I probably need a couple of days with the script so I can just like get into the right mindset and just think about some of the things.’ But I just showed up on set and just go you know, and so I thought that was awesome. It definitely tested my comedy acting skills and my abilities because, you know, there’s something that just I wasn’t sure I had in me as well. But I was able to, I think just push the envelope with my abilities on the acting side and the comedy side and it was a lot of fun.

I gotta say, I knew you had you because going back through preparing for this I found an old ESPYs ad where you did a Reggae Bush bit that still kills me. So I don’t know if you remember that but I knew you had the chops because the delivery on that was perfect.

[Laughing] Yeah, I forgot about that, man. Yeah, that was definitely a fun opportunity as well. But you know, to me, it’s kind of scary sometimes doing improv. You know what I mean? Because it’s like, you got to [snaps fingers], you got to just come up with it, whatever it is. But Wendy’s was great, they allowed me to also add things that I just wanted to do within a scene. It was like, here’s kind of the script, but if there’s things that you want to change or add, go ahead. And I just thought that freedom really allowed me to, you know, be my best.

You play on it with the ad, but what has it been like being able to be back in the college football world and being on sidelines for these big games after you were effectively shunned for a decade from the sport?

Yeah, it’s umm…man, it’s definitely been full circle. Full Circle, unique opportunity. Because I have to be honest, when Fox first came to recruit me for this show I had a lot of reservations about it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I was doing Thursday Night Football for NFL Network. And I was just retired from the NFL. So it’s like, I didn’t know college, wasn’t really studying it as much, you know, and the players always changing, coaches as well. So I just wasn’t sure.

And then also at the same time, there were reservations about everything that I had been through in the college space, and you know, how tough that was on me, spiritually. And just how tough that was on me and my family. It was it was something that definitely scarred me on the inside, but also at the same time, I’ve always felt like, at the end of the day, the facts and the truth were gonna come out. And most recently, the facts and the truth have come out with my former running back coach, Todd McNair, who filed a lawsuit against the NCAA for defamation of character for them basically trying to pin the case on him and making him kind of the link between USC and me and being able to penalize our school. And most recently, he won that lawsuit [Ed Note: McNair’s case was settled with the NCAA in July 2021 in mediation]. I think the kicker is, at the time when when T-Mac filed the lawsuit, I wasn’t sure how long it was gonna take but I don’t think it’s gonna take 10-plus years for him to finally win that lawsuit and win that case.

And I think it just speaks to the NCAA and who they are and they did everything they could to get the case thrown out of court. They tried to get the judge taken off the case. They delayed and delayed and motioned and motioned for as long as they could. But the inevitable happened and T-Mac won that lawsuit. They had to pay him $8 million. And I think that money that they had to pay and I think the case is proof that my story is, one it’s crazy, but the NCAA lied about a lot of things that happened. And you know, so that case, T-Mac winning that, I think speaks volumes. Did the NCAA come out and release a statement and say, hey, we just had to pay T-Mac this and that or, you know, we were wrong for this and that? No, they didn’t. They got a nondisclosure agreement with him and tried to sweep it behind closed doors. But we’re not gonna let it get swept under the rug, because it’s too big of a story.

And that’s what’s unique about my story is that nobody knows all the facts. Nobody knows the truth, because I’ve never spoken about it. I haven’t done any interviews on it. Because I knew there’s gonna come a time and a place where the facts and the truth are gonna come out. And, you know, now with the NCAA, the ruling from the Supreme Court, 9-0, I think that’s that piece of it also shows you that they were basically violating kids’ human rights, basic rights, you know what I mean to go make money off their name, image, and likeness. And so here we are. They didn’t want to be in this position. They were forced in this position. And so now the bridge beneath them is crumbling, as we’ve seen. And I’m so happy, so happy, for these kids to be able to now go make money for themselves, for their families. I’m hearing great stories about kids donating money to foundations and donating their time and that’s what it’s about. I’m so happy that these kids get a chance to go and make money off their name, image, and likeness now, because they deserve it.

You know, in our country we’ve been told a lie, that your scholarship is a fair trade. And that’s not true. That’s the narrative that the NCAA wanted to push, but now, here we are, you know, and it’s proof that these kids deserve more. They’re working their butts off. They’re grinding for these universities. They’re bringing in millions for these universities and billions for the NCAA. And so, they were put in a position where — we were put in a position where we were broke, hungry, starving, literally, I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean, that literally. Literally broke, hungry, and starving in college, while making millions and billions for universities. Somebody’s benefiting? And it’s just now the times have change. So, with my case, NCAA, again, they swept T-Mac’s win under the rug, but we’re not gonna let that stay quiet. There are legal things happening right now behind closed doors with my legal team and the Heisman Trust, and NCAA, as we speak. And I feel confident that some things are gonna happen, some things gonna change, for me with the Heisman Trust and Heisman Trophy.

And, you know, that’s why I say, it’s full circle for me. You asked me the question earlier, what it was like for me to go back in the college space, honestly, I can’t explain it. I feel like this is all part of a bigger plan, bigger purpose, made by God to put me in this position to have me here back in this college space, when I never in a million years imagined I would come back after some of the things that I had to go through and dealt with. So, for me again, now that I’m here and now looking at it, I’m so glad I made that decision. Because out college football show, Big Noon Kickof, I can’t imagine a better job. To be able to go to work and have 10-20,000 people behind you screaming their heads off. You know, the energy is amazing. The reception by the fans everywhere we go, we’re now treated like ambassadors of the sport. And I appreciate the fans for that. Appreciate all of it.

And, again, this, I promise you, this was not my plan. You know, my plan was not to go through what I went through in college, and then into the NFL. You know, getting drafted to New Orleans, that was crazy in itself. I went there five months after Hurricane Katrina. When New Orleans looked like a third world country, you wouldn’t even recognize it. You know what I mean? Water lines on every house, spray painted with numbers of bodies found in those houses. No restaurants, no businesses open. It was crazy. And I think just, again, the plan, the journey that I’ve been on, that God has taken me on has been so amazing, and just something I could never have have imagined. But I think going to New Orleans, and the time period I went to it, I felt like I went there in a time period where they needed me and I needed them. I needed to go to a place that needed me, because I really felt kind of outcast by the things I was dealing with with college football. And so I think going to New Orleans was such an amazing time. And just something I could have never imagined but it was like once I felt that purpose of okay, I’m here for a much larger purpose, much bigger than football you know, playing for people who lost businesses, homes, family members, all kinds of stuff. It really just, right away I had to change my focus. I had to shift my focus and New Orleans became this perfect marriage at the perfect time and we were able to go win a Super Bowl for them. And that was…that was the best experience of my life. Doing that four years after Katrina for a city that really desperately needed some good, some hope, you know, and now look at this, the organization and team man. It’s just, I’m glad I was a part of that change.

Yeah, I was gonna ask about just what the transition is like going from being a college football legend and a guy who when you walked on the field, you were absolutely the best player on the field. And you go to the NFL when you’re a top pick, what was it like going into a league where there’s guys at your level and how do you mentally adapt to that and deal with that change? Because obviously there’s a big difference there.

It was. When you’re a top pick and you come in the league with a lot of notoriety, everybody taking shots at you. At you. And I mean that on the football field. Everybody wants a piece of you. Everybody wants to measure, I think, themselves against you. And I felt that my rookie year. I felt like guys was trying to kill me on the football field. I felt like I survived maybe one of the hardest hits in NFL history in the NFC divisional game against the Eagles where I just got absolutely destroyed, you know.

But I felt that energy all season long. And I liked it, you know, because it reminded me that I was a problem on a football field to a lot of defenses and for a lot of defensive players. And all I ever wanted to do was just go make plays, you know, go make highlight reel style plays, go do the unthinkable. I said in high school I was gonna win the Heisman Trophy, before I even really understood what that even meant. I was just like, oh, that goes to the best player? I want to win. But I didn’t even really understand like the magnitude of what that meant, what that was gonna take. You know, I said I wanted to win the Super Bowl. I didn’t understand the magnitude of what that was going to take now looking back on it. You know, I said I wanted to play in the NFL for a long time. I played 11 years as a running back. That’s a long time, that’s double digit years, you know, which you don’t see a lot of that anymore. I’ve been blessed and now I work for some great networks work the NFL Network on Thursday Night Football and now with Fox so I’ve been blessed man. The journey and a ride has been amazing. And you know, again, this definitely, the way is gone, is I could have never imagined that or planned it.

You were at Alabama-Texas, which was a crazy game. You’ve been in that spot that Alabama was in where you are the team that everybody’s hunting and you’re gonna get everybody’s best shot. When you go into an environment like that, and you don’t have your best game and you suddenly find yourself in a dogfight, what does it tell you about this Alabama team that they were able to still go out and get that win despite not playing what we think is their best?

It’s a unique position to be in, because you see everybody’s A-game. You are the measuring stick for everything you’re gonna play. My last year in college we dealt with that every single week. It felt like we were down at halftime, every single week. And we had to fight, claw, scratch our way back into a W. I remember playing Oregon on the road, we were down at halftime and then we came back. Oregon State in the Fog Bowl, where it was literally so foggy on TV you couldn’t see anything and I couldn’t even see the ball, you know, when it was being punted and kicked in the air. We played Arizona State that year, we were down at halftime. They were just taking it to us and it just felt like everybody is giving us their championship effort. You know what I mean?

And that’s what Alabama has to look forward to. Every single week they’re gonna be tested and everybody’s gonna want to knock them off. Especially when they go to other stadiums, you know, like at Texas, hostile environment, the fans were loud the entire game so the fans they effected — I think the fans effected this game a lot. You know, they had some offsides, false start penalties. You definitely saw Alabama out of character, and I think out of their element in that game. But you know, Bryce Young was great when they needed him to be great. And that’s what great players do. They’re great when your team needs them most. And that’s something that won’t show up on the stat sheet. It won’t show up in a contract. But, you know, I think that just the heart of Bryce Young in those moments, and that final minute and a half spoke volumes. And so being in that position — again, like I said, we were in that position my last year, we had to face Virginia Tech Week 1 on the road, and that was a dogfight. But this is the way it is for Alabama. For those teams. Georgia, same way, they’re gonna see everybody’s A-game too, they won the national championship last year. But they look good. They look really good [laughs].

Kirby [Smart] got them turned around real fast. He got them on track.

He got them on track quick. But yeah, you know, that brings out the best in the best athletes. I love every second of it. You know, Iappreciated the time that we blew teams out, but I really loved those games where we had to fight, claw, and scratch our way back into a W. Just because that really tests your spirit. It tests your willpower. And, you know, anytime you can win those games, it’s just like, one more step. You know what I’m saying? It’s like one more step, one more chapter you feel like you’ve you’ve closed and just gives you that much more confidence on a football field.

Lastly, I got to ask about SC. Obviously a good start to the Lincoln Riley era there with what you’re seeing with Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison. As an alum, as somebody who cares about that program. Does it does it feel different this time? Does it feel like it’s really got a chance to get back to where everybody at USC wants it to get to?

I think it does. It feels like the direction of the program is going up. And with Lincoln Riley’s history, we know him to be a great coach. And I mean, I think this is one of his biggest accomplishments. You know, obviously having Heisman Trophy winners is amazing. You know, I think just what he’s been able to do in a short period of time, in a landscape that’s very different, you know, full of transfer portals, transfers and this landscape is so different, to be able to go and I think shift the roster in one year. And to completely change the offense, the look, just everything about it. That’s awesome. It just leaves me wanting more and wanting to see what they’re going to do next. They already look like they’re in postseason form. And I know, Stanford, we’ll see how good or or not good they are throughout the rest of the season, but man, I think this was just a great showing of what they can do. And Caleb Williams looks awesome. He looks really good. And just the offense looks good. They’re playing in space. I’m such a fan of Lincoln Riley and his just offensive brilliance. It’s just a breath of fresh air. When you see, it’s like, this is how football supposed to be played. I love that they’re running the football again. You know, we haven’t had a good run game at USC in a while. And now the run game is taken off, you know what I’m saying? So now that’s going to attract more recruits. So it’s just, it’s awesome to see, you know, man, what a difference a coach makes in a program and a university.