Daegan Bush is known as a tough guy on the football field. The offensive lineman started every game at Woodford County High School, winning All-Region and All-District honors, but he has also tackled tough opponents off the field.
"I was born with a left-hand deformity. The umbilical cord wrapped around my hand, and it hampered it from growing correctly. So I just came out, and I was really, you know, I was a shy kid. I was different. You don't want to be different. You want to fit in with like everybody else. It was really tough," Bush said.
He still remembers elementary school classmates making fun of him, and the lessons he learned from that pain.
"Every time you meet a new person, it's 'What happened to your hand?' It's just tough having to realize that God makes no mistakes. I didn't realize that until recently. He has no faults, and I see that everything happens for a reason."
He credits his faith and football with helping him get through the tough times. Raised by a single mother, he says they struggled a lot. Corinna Lynn Stumbo would go without food so she could buy her son football cleats.
"Football is a direct representation of life, really overcoming a lot of things. You're pushing your mind and your body to the limits. You don't think that you would ever be able to go to that level or accomplish things that you can, but it's just like life. What you put into football, what you put into your life, is what you get out."
His faith would be tested again when he lost his biggest fan this past March. His mother died at the age of 39.
"Every day, I think about her. Everything reminds me of you her. We were so close, but I just look at it from a positive outlook to show that she's in a better place. Now she's got the best seat of all."
He knows his mom will be with him when he takes the field for the Eastern Illinois Panthers this fall.
"I'm definitely going to try and make a name for myself. You know, not very many people know about it. There's actually some pretty good NFL talent. Jimmy Garaoppolo, Tony Romo, Sean Payton, the coach of the Saints. A lot of good players went to Eastern Illinois."
Daegan's dream was to play for the Kentucky Wildcats. While that dream did not come true, he will get to play against Kentucky when his Panthers travel to Lexington this fall to play at Kroger Field.
"It is definitely pretty surreal, especially considering that we play Kentucky next year. So them being my childhood team and growing up watching them, wanting to play for them. You know, it didn't end up the way I wanted it to, but I wouldn't change the way that everything unfolded."
He is grateful to his grandmother, Jackie Douglas, for her love and support, and his former coach Dennis Johnson for his guidance.
"He just he played an unbelievable role in my life. He definitely was in a spot in a role that I needed at the time."
Daegan Bush has come a long way in a short time, and he hopes the best is yet to come.