By MAT SCHLISSEL
You couldn't ask for a better representative of the Towson University football program.
Towson is fortunate right now to have three athletes playing in three of the four "major" sports leagues. Casper Wells is a reserve outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. Gary Neal is a backup guard for the San Antonio Spurs and Jermon Bushrod is the starting left tackle for the New Orleans Saints.
When Bushrod (right) spoke at the Gridiron Gala on Friday, April 20, his mission was clear. The 27-year old left tackle, who is in charge of protecting Drew Brees' blindside, was delivering a message to a younger group of Tigers about being complacent after winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship.
"On February 7, 2010 around 11 pm, the New Orleans Saints hoisted
their very first Lombardi Trophy," said Bushrod. "Suddenly, things started to change.
started to grow from all angles.
"From our fans expecting perfection to the media bringing up the Super Bowl hangover every chance they could, they were expecting stories whenever adversity strikes," he added. "Our players strive to block the 'noise,' which is everything outside of your organization, the media, people around you that think they know everything that's going on. You block that noise."
"Winning is something you strive to build upon as you fight
not to become complacent," he added. "The more wins you get, the more your chest
sticks out. The more you smile and
the prettier you think you are. As players, coaches and an organization, everyone wants to win. It's hard to win, especially in the top conference in FCS. Winning doesn't just happen on game day. It happens when you show up from summer vacation at Minnegan Field and at the weight room at the Towson Center. It happens while your other friends are back home at the beach every other weekend or trying to find a new chill spot.
"It starts at the early morning workouts at spring practices when you're awakened by an alarm at 4 am for a 5:30 am practice," Bushrod added. "While some of your peers are just getting tucked in from a long night uptown or downtown. It starts at training camp when your body aches day in and day out, not just from the practices but from those horrible dorm room beds."
The King Georges, Va. native lived through tough practices as a four-year starter with the Tigers at left tackle from 2003-06, earning all-conference honors three times, including first-team All-Atlantic 10 as a senior.
In 2007, Bushrod was drafted in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints and didn't start his first two seasons. For two years, he protected one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play at Towson, Sean Schaefer. In 2005, it's no coincidence that with Bushod blocking, Nick Williams ran for 959 yards and seven touchdowns, while Schaefer threw for over 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns in his redshirt freshman season.
As for making the Pro Bowl in his third year as a starter, Bushrod wasn't exactly expecting it.
"(I felt) shock, disbelief," said Bushrod after Tiger Bowl II. "That's never the goal going into the season, making the Pro Bowl. But it's a pretty awesome accolade. You can't do it without the team and my team helped me get there. It was a pretty cool feeling to represent New Orleans."
Like most rookies, Bushrod had to ride the bench during his first two seasons, But in 2009, when starting tackle Jamaal Brown injured his knee, Bushrod stepped in and the Saints ended up winning the Super Bowl that same year.
In 2011, Bushrod was named to his first Pro Bowl after playing the most snaps in the NFL (1,177). He was also part of a record-setting offense as Brees broke the single-season passing record with 5,476 yards.
In Towson's magical run through the CAA, winning their first championship, Bushrod found a way to keep track of his alma mater as the Saints traveled on Saturday to their next destination.
"I was tuned in week-in, week-out, to see how you guys played," said Bushrod told the Tigers at the Gridiron Gala. "I refreshed my Twitter, Facebook, ESPN.com so many times on Saturday bus trips, I had no battery by the time I got to wherever I was going. You helped bring a community, alumni association and student body closer than ever before. Since we can't squeeze anymore eligibility out of these seniors, it's time for you juniors, sophomores and freshmen to step up and continue to build on a great year. The grind will be harder for you guys. You will be circled on everybody's schedule this year. This year will be tough mentally and physically, so keep that vision, hunger and keep sacrificing in all areas because when adversity strikes you will be mentally tough to get it done. We're proud of you guys and what lies ahead for the Towson football family."
Another Towson alum who does the radio play-by-play for the Baltimore Ravens is WBAL-TV sports director Gerry Sandusky, who hosted the event. Sandusky summed up what Bushrod has meant to the athletic program and university.
"I've been on a whole lot of plane rides where people weren't talking about Towson," said Sandusky. "Jermon Bushrod is on a plane ride talking to Drew Brees about how good you are. You can't buy that kind of marketing. The work you do and the work he does, puts this university on the map. Jermon has pushed himself to the greatest degree of what he can accomplish and he's challenged you to do the same."