Burge making the most of his chance to start
OCT 24, 2012 11:16a ET
For four years, Burge sacrificed for the good of the team. No scholarship. Little playing time. And by the end of last season, little fun.
He decided, before his redshirt senior season arrived to quit playing football for good. The time commitment simply wasn't worth the miniscule reward. He had made brief appearances in 29 games, primarily on the special teams units.
"I just had no real desire to play," Burge said. "I'd always played because I loved the game. I liked doing it. For a while there, I just didn't like doing it. I could see it in practice. It showed up in lifts and stuff.
"It was just one of those things that accumulated over a couple months at the end of the year last year."
Burge, a 6-foot-7, 323-pound Holmen, Wis., native, met with members of Wisconsin's coaching staff in late January to tell them his plans. His position coach, Bob Bostad, had left the program for another job. A new staff of assistants came in and didn't know the sacrifices Burge had made.
The response from coaches was similar: If you stick it out, a chance for more playing time exists. Take more time before making your decision.
Burge mulled the conversations over for a week. He realized he might regret missing out on his final season of college football and decided to return.
"It was full-go from there," Burge said.
He has produced a positive impact on the team ever since, re-dedicating himself to the sport for one more year.
"He just worked his tail off all summer and trained his body," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "Probably lost I would say anywhere from 5 to 10 percent body fat. Our kids really enjoy being around him."
Burge worked so hard that Bielema finally awarded him a scholarship in August — four years after first arriving on campus.
"To reward him with a scholarship in the fall I think really surprised him but also gave him a little bit of a desire," Bielema said. "OK, well now I'm a scholarship player. What am I going to do to prove it and to get that first start?"
Burge opened fall camp as the team's starting right guard, but he soon lost the job to Kyle Costigan, a converted defensive lineman. It appeared Burge was destined to be a lifer as a backup.
But two Saturdays ago, left tackle Rick Wagner injured his knee against Purdue, and Burge played well in relief. Then last Saturday against Minnesota, Wisconsin offensive line coach Bart Miller gave Burge the opportunity to start at left tackle and play the most snaps of his career.
"By about five times the max I've ever gotten," Burge said.
According to Miller, Burge played 59 snaps and recorded a team-high 16 knockdowns.
Miller, who took over as the team's full-time offensive line coach after the second week of this season, said Burge had earned his opportunity after all he went through.
"There's such cohesion on our group that (teammates) didn't want to see a guy that worked tremendously hard for four years leave kind of ingloriously like that," Miller said. "He's playing a lot of good football for us. I'm happy where he's at, and I'm excited to see how he finishes his senior year."
Members of the team's offensive line couldn't be happier for Burge.
"I think now it feels a little bit more like he's more needed," Badgers center Travis Frederick said. "Not necessarily that he didn't want the position before. He certainly did, but I think what's really made him step up is knowing that we would crumble without him, basically.
"Obviously we have guys behind him, but we need him to play, and he's certainly stepped up to the role and done a good job."
Burge's role as a starter may be up soon upon Wagner's return. But he is simply glad to be a contributor for a college team he grew up watching.
The gratification comes in knowing he stuck it out through the most difficult times.
"I'm really happy that I'm obviously here," Burge said. "One of the main reasons I came back was the teammates. I love these guys and I'd do anything for these guys, especially the o-line."
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