There’s a popular phrase for a small town – a one-stop light town.
Bushland, Texas is a no-stop light town.
It’s landmarks are a Post Office, a water tower, a Quick Stop and an elementary school. Oh, and there’s a super-sized high school football stadium, which was built before the school.
But, suddenly, Bushland is big-time.
It’s got its first two NFL players, and they were both drafted in the same year: New York Giants center Weston Richburg and Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore.
A town that was known more for being the same distance from Los Angeles as Chicago is now beaming with Texas joy. And Gillmore couldn’t be more proud of his roots.
“It’s an awesome place,” Gillmore said. “I’m just a small-town kid; that’s all I’ve ever been and that’s all I’ll ever be.”
Asked if he had time to talk about his hometown, Gillmore responded: “I always have a few minutes to talk about Bushland.”
“Don’t get him started,” joked sixth-round quarterback Keith Wenning, who has a neighboring locker but has only known Gillmore for about a week.
As of 2000, Bushland had a population of 130. It’s ballooned since then to just over 1,000 in 2012. There were 88 kids in Gillmore’s senior class. This wasn’t a private school either. It was public.
The crown jewel of Bushland is its high school football stadium.
The land between Amarillo and Bushland is so flat and barren that you can see the stadium from 10 miles away on the highway. The stadium seats about 6,000, but Gillmore said there was never less than 7,000 in attendance for his games.
It’s like a scene straight out of “Friday Night Lights.”
“There was nothing else to do there but play football,” Gillmore said.
That’s how Gillmore grew up, playing defensive end and wide receiver. He was a four-year starter who helped the team win 34 of its 38 games over its final three seasons. They went to the Texas Class 2A Division II state championship.
He became the first 1,000-yard receiver in school history, catching a Falcons record 22 touchdown passes as a senior. He also racked up 26 career sacks.
But Gillmore surprisingly wasn’t recruited by Texas colleges. Texas Christian University (TCU) gave him a sniff but didn’t give an offer. Missouri told him he could be a preferred walk-on as a defensive lineman.
Gillmore still doesn’t know the reason for the lack of interest from his home state. Perhaps it was because he was a lanky 6-foot-6, 215 pound high school senior. Maybe it was because nobody even knew of Bushland.
Colorado State, who had brought Richburg on campus one year earlier, was the only place that gave Gillmore an offer.
“I didn’t get recruited by any Texas school, so I had a little bitterness,” Gillmore said. “But I’ll always be a Texas kid. Anytime anyone asks us where we’re from, it’s Texas. Colorado State was part of us, but that’s not where [Richburg and I] are from.”
Gillmore excelled at Colorado State despite getting a late start at tight end. He was a late invite to the Senior Bowl after another player left due to an injury, yet caught a game-high five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Gillmore and Richburg came back to Bushland, along with the rest of the Colorado State offensive line and countless other friends and family, to watch the NFL Draft. Richburg was taken first in the second round (pick No. 43 overall) by the New York Giants.
Gillmore locked himself in a back bedroom to wait his turn. And finally, with the second-to-last pick on the draft’s second day (pick No. 99 overall in the third round), Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome called.
“The town’s just going crazy over it,” said David Flowers, the former Bushland High School football coach. “Both of those guys are such humble people that the community just loves ‘em.”
The next day, more than half of Bushland came out to wish their newfound NFL players leave. About 600 people packed into Richburg’s family barn.
“They just came by to say ‘hi’ and congratulate them,” Flowers said. “It was amazing to see that kind of support from that small community. Two of them in one year. It’s amazing.”
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