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USC welcomes Reggie Bush back into fold after 10-year disassociation

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The cardinal and gold jerseys lay in the east end of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, under the arena’s famous peristyle.

There have been many Trojans worthy of honors throughout USC football’s storied history, but only six have received this distinction, with their jersey numbers displayed for all to see, never to be worn again: 3, 11, 12, 20, 32, 33.

But one has been conspicuously absent for the last decade: No. 5, the jersey that belonged to Reggie Bush.

Bush reached the threshold necessary to receive this honor, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2005. And for a while his jersey did sit in the east end of the Coliseum. But in 2010, NCAA investigators found that Bush accepted improper benefits while at USC.

Bush vacated his Heisman. USC vacated 14 wins, including a national championship. And the two parties, inextricably tied together, were forced to disassociate from one another. All murals of Bush were removed from campus, and his jersey was removed from the Coliseum.

But that was 10 years ago. On June 10, 2020, the disassociation expired. And on Wednesday morning, USC welcomed Bush back into the fold, ending his decade-long exile from Troy.

“I was excited. This has been something I’ve dreamed of for a long time,” Bush told Colin Cowherd on FS1 Wednesday morning. “To be able to come home and spend time with some of the younger players, some of the coaches, some of the faculty, the staff members there. There are still people there that I’ve developed strong, close relationships with that I’ve known for a very long time all the way down to the equipment people and that’s a testament to what we built in our time there while I was at USC. … For me, we’re excited to be back. Can’t wait to get to the university and get to know some of the young players there and start to help initiate change and just help bring back greatness to USC.”

In a statement released through USC’s athletic department, university president Carol L. Folt said in a letter to Bush Wednesday morning, “I am pleased to inform you that all restrictions and prohibitions on your involvement in our athletics program are officially removed and you will be afforded the privileges and courtesies extended to all Trojan football alumni.”

“I’ve dreamed of this day for 10-plus years, and I’m excited to come home,” wrote Bush in a statement on USC’s athletics website.

In USC’s announcement, it confirmed the Trojans’ 14 wins from 2004 and 2005, which were vacated by the NCAA due to the violations, will remain vacated along with Bush’s participation in those games. The status of Bush’s 2005 Heisman Trophy, which he returned back to the Heisman Trophy Trust in 2010, also remains unchanged as well.

“To say that I don’t want [the Heisman] back, would be a lie,” Bush told Cowherd. “I do want to be completely honest about that, 100 percent I want my Heisman Trophy back. But also at the same time, I’m more focus on the kids now because what happened to me is in the past.”

Bush played at USC from 2003-2005, winning national championships the first two years before losing to Texas in the title game following the 2005 season. In his three years, Bush amassed 3,169 rushing yards, 1,301 more receiving yards and 42 total touchdowns.

After finishing fifth in the Heisman race as a sophomore, Bush won the award given annually to college football’s best player in 2005. That season, he rushed 200 times for 1,740 yards and 16 TDs, adding 478 yards and two touchdowns receiving. He also returned 18 punts, one for a touchdown.

“It was amazing,” Bush told Cowherd of time at USC. “It was amazing to be able to look on the sidelines and see Snoop Dog, see Will Ferrell , see a lot of ex players, Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lott. You see those kinds of guys on the sidelines cheering for you and supporting you and it means a lot and that’s one of the reasons I can’t wait to go back.”

He declared for the draft following the Rose Bowl loss to Texas, but scandal soon followed. Allegations came forward that Bush and his parents had received illicit benefits from marketing agents looking to sign Bush following his collegiate career.

The NCAA began an investigation that spring that lasted four years. In June, 2010, the results of the investigation were revealed. The NCAA found that Bush received gifts from sports marketers as far back as the December of his sophomore season, including a limousine and suit for the night he won his Heisman Trophy.

USC was forced to vacate 14 wins, including the BCS title win over Oklahoma. The Trojans also lost 30 scholarships over three years and were banned from postseason play for two seasons.

Additionally, USC was required to permanently disassociate itself from Bush (in 2017, the NCAA passed a rule that caused disassociations to expire after 10 years).

His image was removed from campus and the school returned its copy of his Heisman Trophy; Bush would later return his copy of the trophy and vacate the award voluntarily. He was not allowed to meet with or speak to members of the team. He was barred from games and practices.

“It’s tough. It’s very tough,” Bush told Cowherd. “I went through a lot as a person. I went through a lot as a man. A lot of my confidence as a man was shot down and I had some struggles throughout my career in the NFL because of the things that happened at USC. … This always lingered in the back of my mind. It’s the thing that kept me up late at nights almost every night. It’s a thing that kinda haunted me too as well.”

Bush, who retired in 2016 after an 11-year NFL career, attended one USC game at the Coliseum since his disassociation started. Hired last summer as a member of Fox Sports’ college football studio crew, that team was assigned to cover USC’s game against Utah live from the Coliseum field.

Though he tried to downplay his return to the site of so many of his triumphs, fans arrived early to see Bush. Some wore red No. 5 jerseys, others chanted his first name. Then-USC defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who was a member of the staff during Bush’s college career, came over to greet his former player.

Then when USC running back Markese Stepp scored the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game, he immediately pointed at a delighted Bush, standing just outside the end zone. Stepp jaunted over to give the ball to Bush and hug him, prompting a broad smile from the former Trojan and a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct from the officials.

“I think anybody was thinking about that if you got in the end zone. He was right there,” Stepp said after the game. “It would be hard to not go to him. That’s Reggie Bush. It’s hard to put into words.”

After the game, USC compliance officials stopped players from interacting with Bush as they left the field for the locker room.

But now Bush will be able to be a member of the USC community again, with the chance to interact with the newest generation of Trojans and lend his advice to the powers that be at the university and in the athletic department.

And maybe see his jersey number back in the east end of the Coliseum.

With Cowherd, Bush also mentioned fully supports the upcoming Name, Image and Likeness reform for student-athletes in the NCAA.

“I’m so happy that kids will now be able to make money off their name, image and likeness because that is what’s fair and that is what they deserve,” Bush said. “In no other form of work, can a company say, ‘Hey you can come work for us, but you cannot make money off your name, image and likeness, but we can.’ That’s unfortunate because you’re hamstringing a lot of families, a lot of kids when they’re in their prime.”

Maggie Vanoni contributed to this report.