By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
SUNBURY — The heat from the two-a-day practices in August seems like a long time ago for Shikellamy High School freshman Derek Bussey.
Derek, 14, son of Bob and Kim Bussey of Northumberland, is entering his seventh week of the season as the starting left tackle for head coach Todd Tilford.
Derek is another in the lineage of Busseys who have played sports at Shikellamy.
Bob, a 1984 Shikellamy graduate, was an offensive linemen for three years before racing took over and he did not play his senior year.
“I regret that decision every day,” Bob said. “If I could turn back time, I never would have done that (gone racing), I would have played.”
Bob played from his freshman to junior year for head coach Dick Purnell. Dick Hort, who is the color analyst on the WKOK radio broadcasts for the Braves, was the line coach.
Derek was around 9 years old when he first started playing football.
“People were telling me to go out for football in the fourth grade because I was big,” Derek said. ‘I’ve only played one position and that is on the offensive line.”
It was the years between the fifth and seventh grade that Derek began to grow. He is now 6 feet tall. His dad is 6-4.
Along with his height, Derek has a long arm reach which makes him a natural for the offensive line position.
While some kids do go both ways these days, Derek said he wouldn’t mind doing that in the future.
He’s averaging 95s for his classes and enjoys the sciences.
“My goal is to go to college and play football,” he said. “I would like to be a physical therapist one day.”
He’s a big fan of the Southeastern Conference but does not have a favorite team.
Athletics runs in the Bussey family. Derek’s sister Lindsay, a 1994 graduate of Shikellamy, played soccer and basketball for the Braves along with running the high hurdles and the 4x100 relay in track. She is married to former University of Pittsburgh linebacker Adam Gunn.
One aspect of the sport that wasn’t prevalent as much 30 years ago was the year-round condition of the players, according to Bob.
“When I played football, we didn’t go out until two weeks before the season started, then we conditioned,” he said. “Today, the kids play year-round and the athletes are much stronger and in better shape. If you don’t train year-round, you are not going to be real good.”
Derek is working out year-round and can now squat 300 pounds.
The current line coach at Shikellamy is Jim Ermert, the former Temple football star, who played with Bob Bussey during his years at Shik.
“Coach E is a great coach and he’s a very intense person and very hands-on,” Derek said. “But, if you do make a mistake, you will get an earful from him.”
“He’s a great father figure for the boys,” added Bob. “He knows how to motivate the kids.”
Among the issues that are getting more attention today than it did back in the 1980s is concussions.
“We used to come home and I remember your head hurting for days and there wasn’t much talk about concussions,” Bob said. “I think the medical part came a long way on that.”
As a parent, Bob is pleased to see how the sport is trying to protect the athletes.
“Every game I’ve been to there is a trainer and doctor there on the sideline and back when I played, we had a trainer, but not to the extent that we have today and they monitor that stuff a lot closer today,” he said.
Another notable change was the helmet that Derek is using has a lot more padding.
Derek has endured a lot of on-the-job training this year in making the move to the varsity level.
“It’s been intense,” he said of the adjustment from eighth- and ninth-grade football. “The seniors and the juniors have been very helpful along with Coach Ermert. I probably owe a lot of my success to the seniors. They have picked me up in practice and helped me along.”
On Saturday nights, Derek is in the pits at Selinsgrove Speedway as part of his dad’s pit crew. Bob is a two-time champion of the roadrunner division, the track’s entry-level racing division. He’s the track record holder of the fastest lap ever turned in a roadrunner at 26.150 seconds — or 72.909 miles per hour.
Derek is in charge of setting up the team’s in-car camera for the night and scraping the mud off the car.
“I’d like to try racing some day and see what would happen,” he said.
He did give go-karts a try some four years ago at Selinsgrove Raceway Park, but football is his calling.
Derek is slated to tryout for the freshman basketball team and, after playing soccer for years, he is switching to track and field with the throwing events as soccer is a fall sport in high school.
“He’s a much better football player than I was,” said Bob.
Derek said he can see the difference in the game at the varsity level from last year although the season is just nine weeks old.
“The kids are a lot bigger and faster and more physical,” he said. “You are a lot more involved in the play. I think if we pick our heads up, we’ll finish strong.”
Derek noted that the camaraderie is great among the ‘big uglies’ (Keith Jackson’s reference for offensive linemen) as they are a group unto themselves, but a group that demonstrates the true family fraternity when it comes to playing football.