Former Modesto Christian football star Isaiah Burse knows he belongs in the NFL. Now, he just needs to convince the Denver Broncos.
Burse led the Crusaders to an undefeated season and the CIF state small-school championship in 2009 before a stellar career at Fresno State, from which he graduated in 3½ years with a degree in criminology.
He wasn’t chosen in May’s NFL draft but signed with AFC champion Denver as a free agent days later. Burse leaves Tuesday for training camp in Englewood, Colo., and will attempt to make the 53-man roster.
As an undrafted player, there’s a good chance he won’t.
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“I don’t really think like that, even though I know it’s possible,” said Burse, who measured a few ticks over 5 foot 10 and 188 pounds at the NFL Combine. “I know I’ve got a purpose for being there, and I feel like I belong there.”
Burse took part in Denver’s organized team activities a few days after the draft and got a taste of life in the NFL.
“That showed me how an NFL team is run pretty much,” he said. “Not taking anything away from the other guys, but I know I belong there. I can make an impact.”
Burse made an impact at Fresno State. As a senior, Burse caught 100 passes – for 1,026 yards and six touchdowns – from record-setting quarterback Derek Carr, who was drafted in the second round by the Raiders.
Should Burse make the Broncos’ roster, his quarterback would be none other than future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning.
“He knows everything,” Burse said of the quarterback known for his computer-like knowledge of the team’s offense. “There are so many wrinkles Peyton throws in. It’s simple for him because he has a different mind. He’ll get to the line and call something different and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know what I’m doing.’
“It’s weird. There’s this presence about him. When he’s around, you don’t want to mess up; you want to be at your best. He’s that kind of dude.”
According to the Denver Post, Burse received a signing bonus of $12,500 – the highest given to Denver’s undrafted free agents – because of his prowess on special teams. In addition to playing receiver, Burse returns punts, which makes him a valuable commodity in the NFL. Burse scored two touchdowns on punt returns last season.
Broncos coach John Fox told Denver Post writer Troy Renck, “He’s a dual return man, especially on punts. Obviously, that helps his chances. It’s definitely a skill set that we were impressed with.”
During OTAs in May, Burse stayed as close to veteran receiver Wes Welker as possible. Welker, at 5-9 and 185 pounds, is similar in stature to Burse. Welker ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds during the 2004 NFL Combine; Burse clocked a 4.58.
“I try to stay close to Wes and Demaryius (Thomas),” Burse said. “They tell me, ‘It’s tough at first, but you’ll get it; you’ll figure it out.’ ”
Since May, Burse has been working out twice a day, resting and studying his playbook – actually, it’s not a book but an iPad pre-loaded with the team’s offensive schemes, and it reads like something found on the shelves at NASA.
Burse has been staying at the Riverbank home of Mark Dobbins, an assistant coach at Modesto Christian who became a sort of surrogate father to Burse during his high school days. Dobbins and his wife, Michelle, were going through a bit of empty-nest syndrome after their son, Kyle, left home. In getting to know Burse, they became a second family.
“Isaiah wins everywhere he goes,” Mark Dobbins said. “He won a state title in high school, he won the Mountain West (Conference) title twice at Fresno State, and now he’s going to a team that has potential to win the Super Bowl. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if he’s a rookie, 22 years old, though he’d be 23 by then, and he wins a Super Bowl.”
That would be fine by Burse, but championships and ticker-tape parades are way down the road. For now, he isn’t looking too far ahead – just to Sept. 1, when NFL teams set their final rosters.
“My goal is to make this team,” Burse said. “On top of that, I just want to help this team. It doesn’t matter how, as long as I’m on the field doing something positive.”
That’s always been the easy part for Burse. On the field, he’s always found a way to make something happen. Between the white lines, he’s not an undrafted free agent, he’s the equal of everybody else on the field.
“It’s just football,” Burse said. “Let’s battle it out.”