For those in and around the game, you quickly realize football is more than just a sport. In the case of Kyle Buss, whose 2017 was a year filled with turmoil, stress and loss, football helped him through the most difficult time in his life.
THE DREADED NEWS
Kyle and his mom, Karen, were close, like many mothers and sons and when news first broke that Karen was checking into a hospital for an undetermined illness just two weeks into his 2016 season at Robert Morris, he made the only decision that made sense to him, Buss left the team and headed back home to New Berlin, NY. There, he helped care for his mom, who was ultimately diagnosed with cancer that December. Karen relentlessly pushed him to return to school, get an education and play the game that he loves, so after a period of time, he began the process of finding a new school.
Leveraging the talent he showcased in his redshirt freshman season just outside of Pittsburgh, when Buss pulled in 50 receptions and was named the NEC offensive rookie of the year, an opportunity arose at UConn and he decided to jump on it. He was familiar with WR Coach Aaron Smith and his father’s history with the UConn football program was an added bonus. Buss soon received his acceptance letter, which he documented below, celebrating with his mom in her hospital room:
“When the time came for me to return to school and play football again, I was limited to a certain radius where I could go and UConn was one of the schools inside that radius that I could attend and try and go play at,” Buss said. “My father also played here and went to school here, so that was another big factor for me in wanting to come. Coach Smith recruited me when he was at Albany, so it just felt like a good fit for me.”
Buss arrived at UConn for the 2017 season and found himself cleared by the NCAA to play ahead of the East Carolina game. With his mom in attendance, he took the field on special teams, beginning the next chapter of his playing career, but it was short lived. He found himself soon returning to his mom’s bedside as her stage 4 abdominal cancer grew worse. During the final weeks of her life, Buss stepped away from the program and the game entirely.
“The coaching staff and Coach Edsall, I couldn’t have been more thankful for how they handled it and how they were there to support me and help me through,” he said. “Coach basically said family comes first, you need to take care of that. That’s all they wanted to do was be there and help me. That really helped.”
In early November, Karen unfortunately passed away.
Following his mother’s passing and funeral services, Buss quickly realized he needed football more than ever.
“It’s not something where you want to be sitting in a room thinking about,” he said. “Getting out here with my teammates and coaching staff, being back was the best thing I could have done.”
“Being around those guys kept my head up,” he continued. “They were there for me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them. With them, football, school, all of that was definitely a good distraction.”
On the field, Buss picked up where he left off. His work ethic and passion for the game outweighed his self-described ‘introverted’ demeanor. Come the season finale, Buss managed to pull in his only catch of the year against Cincinnati and it was only a sign of things to come. His head coach saw how he approached the game everyday and even commented about Buss’ work ethic last year.
“I’d take a hundred of those guys, his attitude, his work ethic, his pride that he has in being a team guy,” Edsall said at the time. “He’s all those qualities you want in a student-athlete and a football player. He just epitomized, to me, what a guy should do each and every day. He earned the respect of his teammates just because of the way he’s handled himself. I know he’s looking forward to an opportunity to play more.”
Buss arrived at UConn as a walk-on, but as the new calendar year hit, Edsall rewarded him with a scholarship.
“Financially, [it helped] tremendously,” Buss said with appreciation. “It took a lot of stress off certain aspects of life. It was a sense of relief. I’m very humble, but I definitely feel like I deserved it. After Coach Edsall informed me of that, it was just a giant sigh of relief because just coming out here everyday, trying to work, trying to get better and compete, I can confidently say that I’ve done that every day since I’ve been here.”
Buss continued to work throughout the offseason and his growth as a player was accelerated with the arrival of new offensive coordinator John Dunn, who’s offensive philosophy is an ideal fit for Buss’ skillset. In the spring, he quickly became a weapon the Huskies knew they could utilize often.
STELLAR SEASON OPENER
Buss took the field last Thursday as the Huskies starting slot receiver and did not disappoint, pulling in a team-high 7-receptions for 113-yards. Heading into the season, he understood he would have a major role in the offense and prepared all training camp for those moments.
“I welcome it,” he said. “I want to do anything I can to help this team win. Coach Dunn gives me a lot of opportunities and I just need to capitalize and do what I can. There’s a lot of diversity in our offense, there are a lot of options. Coach Dunn has done a great job implementing a lot of different things and trying to get us to play fast.”
Within his position group, Buss is one of three seniors including Hergy Mayala and Tyraiq Beals. Between the three of them and Coach Smith, it’s a tight knit group that is paving the way for a larger and younger corps of receivers.
“Coach Smith has been a great mentor for me for a long time,” Buss said. “I’ve always been a more lead by example guy, but I’ve been trying to be more vocal and help out the young guys. We’re a group, we’re all one family in our room. We have all of our receivers back from last season, so we just want to go out, play fast and execute.”
Offensively in the opener, UConn performed well between the 20’s, but once in scoring position, the offense faltered, something they will need to clean up heading into their road opener tomorrow night in Boise.
“Statistically, the yards were there,” Buss said after the loss to UCF. “We had the plays and like coach said, we can’t play between the 20’s. Once we get there, we need to put points on the board against a team like that. We didn’t execute. At the end of the day, there were some good things, but we need to get points on the board.”
“We have a bunch of great guys on the offensive unit,” he added. “We are playing together. David [Pindell] is a great quarterback. He’s confident in himself and confident in us. We believe in him and he got it going for us last week. We just need to put those points on the board.”
Heading into the season opener, Buss summarized what he wanted to accomplish this season.
“I’m a senior, my college days are numbered, so I just want to go out and give everything I have because I don’t want to look back and think shoulda woulda coulda,” he said. “I just want to go out there and compete. I want to help my team win. That’s the biggest thing, I want to win.”
Buss will take his mother’s memory onto the field with him each time he steps between the white lines. After leading the team in receptions in the opener, Karen must have been a proud mother, looking down with a smile.
“My mom was always someone that never pushed me to do something I never wanted to do,” he said. “Whatever I did, she wanted me to do it to the best of my ability. She knew that I loved football. She loved watching me play.”
MATT SCHONVISKY / SITE CREATOR