Sometime before the city's oldest football rivalry is renewed tonight, two seniors - Baylor's Ian Jump and McCallie's Andrew Busby - will take a moment to reflect quietly on the opportunity they have. As key contributors on offense, defense and special teams, both players rarely come off the field, but there was a time when the odds were against either of them being able to suit up as part of such a special experience.
Numbers always have played a significant role in Andrew Busby's life. That began when he beat the percentages by being born.
The trend continues now as he is reminded of the added responsibility and expectation that comes with wearing number 17 at McCallie.
During the last years of Ralph Potter's first head coaching job, at Baylor, he was impressed with the competitiveness and leadership of Jason Green, a tenacious running back and linebacker. During a break from college in 1999, Green returned home to visit with friends, but as he drove home late he was killed in a car wreck, and the news shook Potter to his core. Starting the next season, although he was then coaching at McCallie, Potter and longtime assistant Chris Richardson decided to honor their former Baylor player by annually giving Green's number 17 to the rising senior who most closely shared the same characteristics.
"It began with us simply wanting Jason's mother to know that we would honor his memory," Potter said. "It's been a tradition at McCallie ever since. The first thing we look for is that it needs to be an impact player, somebody with toughness, both physically and mentally. A leader.
"I would trust Andrew with just about anything as far as our team, and so much of what he does for me is to translate things to the younger kids. He's invaluable in that. Andrew is everything we look for in a leader on and off the field, so he was an easy choice to represent that number this season."
Shortly after the birth of her second child, Elouise Busby was told there were too many health risks for her to have any more children. But one year to the date after having a surgical procedure that was supposed to prevent her from becoming pregnant, she was told her flulike symptoms actually were caused by pregnancy.
"At first I told them it had to be wrong, because my doctor had assured me there was no chance of me becoming pregnant again," Elouise said. "Finally my doctor came in, and the first thing he said to me was that after discussing it with several other doctors, the only conclusion was that there is a God.
"For the first six weeks I would go have tests to make sure everything was OK, but then I just decided I would trust God, since it seemed to be his will for me to have this baby. I knew all along that Andrew was a special gift and he has a purpose to be here."
Four weeks before her due date, Elouise's doctor decided to expedite the delivery, as Andrew already weighed 8 pounds, 12 ounces. The baby who had beat the odds soon followed in the family's athletic footsteps. Elouise ran track at Florida A&M, her older son A.J. was a star player at McCallie who also had the honor of wearing No. 17, and her daughter Simone was an all-state performer in three sports at GPS. Andrew easily excelled at sports as well, but he always gravitated more to football because of the toughness the sport requires.
Busby leads the Blue Tornado defense with 56 total tackles (32 solos) and also has 358 rushing yards and six touchdowns on offense. While he isn't sure if he will continue his football career past this season, Andrew has decided to pursue a career in medicine.
"My mom is a physical therapist, and seeing her help people has inspired me to want to do the same," Andrew said. "I do believe I'm here for a reason - it's just finding what that is. When my mom told me the story about how I was born, the first thing I thought about was that I almost wasn't even here to get to experience everything I have. That's made me realize how thankful I am to get to be a part of my family and to get to be at McCallie and play football.
"I'm also honored to get to wear number 17, knowing what it means here. It lets me know I have to give every ounce of effort I have on every play, so the whole team knows they can count on me. Even with my actions and my voice when I'm off the field, I try to live up to the trust the coaches put in me by giving me that number."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.