Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Isaiah Burse pointed to his shoulder and hip, the culprits in a year-long hiatus from the NFL.
“I’m almost back to 100 (percent),” Burse said shortly before Saturday's Modesto Christian Alumni Jairol Red Benefit Game. “I’m ready to get back on the field and get rolling. I had a minor setback, but it sets up for a major comeback.”
Burse had more surgeries (two) than catches (zero) and kick returns (zero) combined in the 2017-2018 season, and watched most of the season from his living room in Fresno.
There are traces of frustration and disappointment in the former Modesto Christian High star's voice, but those feelings vanish the moment conversation turns to his son, a tiny bundle cradled in his mother's arms. Burse's time away from the NFL has served a dual purpose: It’s given his body a chance to heal, while affording him a unique opportunity to bond with his newborn.
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"It was tough. It was real tough,” he said of landing on the injured reserve list. “I’m not going to lie, it was tough. It was all mental. I was bummed watching the games on TV from home, but I feel like everything happened for a reason.
“I had a son and it’s been great. Obviously, you don’t want to be injured, but being injured, I was able to take care of my son and watch him grow up.”
Soon, he hopes his son will watch him shred NFL defenses and kick coverages.
Burse says he’ll be cleared in time for organized team activities (OTAs) in April. An explosive kick returner when healthy, the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Burse hopes to become a fixture in the Chargers’ huddle, and a reliable outlet for perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers.
In two seasons with the Broncos (2014) and Chargers (2016), though, Burse has been used exclusively on special teams. He has appeared in 21 games, returning 10 kickoffs for 195 yards, or a 19.5 yard average. He’s also returned 44 punts.
That he's still searching for his first NFL reception may surprise some, especially those familiar with his exploits in college.
At Fresno State, Burse was a favorite target in one of the nation’s top passing offenses. He played alongside Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, and former St. Mary’s High standout Josh Harper.
Burse had 210 catches for 2,503 yards and 21 total touchdowns in four years with the Bulldogs. Operating mostly out of the slot as a senior, he posted career highs in catches (100) and yards (1,026). Those numbers, he says, translate to today’s NFL, where undersized slot receivers have become first-option assets.
“I’m much more than a specialist and the coaches know that as well,” Burse said. “You have to be patient and realize it’s not your turn yet; your time is coming.
“Being on the field is a blessing, regardless. My time is coming. My time is coming. I’m not worried. Come April, I’m going to hit the ground running.”
A loyal fan base awaits his return. Nearly a decade after he led Modesto Christian to a CIF State Small-School football championship and was named MaxPreps Small-School State Player of the Year, Burse remains a star in the Crusader solar system. He was tackled by well-wishers and smothered in hugs Saturday evening during the alumni game.
Though he wasn’t cleared to play in the benefit for the late Jairol Red, Burse was acknowledged during the announcement of the lineups.
“These are the good ol’ days, (when) I didn’t have to worry about being an adult quite yet,” he said. “Always having these warm people around me; these people who want to see me succeed.
“Ever since I left, I’ve had people texting and following my journey. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not you graduate high school and you fall off the face of the Earth. Since I left, people have been ringing my phone and following on Facebook. It’s always been love from Modesto Christian.”