College Football: Healthy again, Burgess looks to finish strong

Published 12:55 am Wednesday, October 26, 2016

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Catawba head coach Curtis Walker’s sons, Jalen and Deuce, are playing football now.
Their games with the Salisbury 49ers are held on Saturday, which means they usually miss Catawba’s games. So their Catawba information comes from their father’s eyewitness accounts.
When Coach Walker described Saturday’s 41-31 loss at UNC Pembroke he began with the tale of David Burgess’ 75-yard run.
“When I told them Burgess out-ran Pembroke’s whole defense they were amazed,” Walker said. “It was like, ‘Really, David Burgess?'”
Burgess can do things like that. He’s an explosive, big-play guy when he’s healthy. He’s had no luck with injuries the past two seasons, but as his career winds down the senior still has accumulated 1,698 rushing yards, 685 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. Those are great numbers for a 5-foot-8, 175-pound guy who arrived at Catawba as a walk-on. He earned a scholarship after his freshman year, but nothing was ever promised to him except a chance.
“When we got David, a lot of people who saw him play in high school (Freedom High in Morganton) told me we got a steal,” Walker said. “They were right.”
Burgess had 133 rushing yards at UNC Pembroke, the third-highest total of his career. It was an outing that put Burgess back in contention in his friendly competition with fellow running back Eamon Smart.
“I told Eamon that I was going to finish the season with more touchdowns and more yards than him,” Burgess said with a smile. “I’m letting that competition drive me these last three games.”
Smart still holds a comfortable edge in rushing yards (452 to 274), but Burgess now leads in TDs (2 to 1).
Burgess suddenly became an important player as a true freshman in Walker’s first season as head coach, scoring six TDs and finishing fourth on the team in receiving yards.
His best and healthiest season was his sophomore year when he had 577 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. That season included a game against Brevard in which he rushed for 137 yards.
There were huge expectations for his junior seasons, but he suffered an ankle injury in the opener against West Georgia. He was able to compete in nine of Catawba’s 12 games, but an ankle injury is devastating for a player who relies on quickness. His numbers were down. His only big game came against UNC Pembroke when he produced 149 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Burgess was determined to stay healthy as a senior, and he put in the off-season work to do so. But the football gods didn’t smile on him.
“I had one off-season goal, and that was to get in such great shape that I’d stay healthy my whole senior year,” Burgess said. “And then I get hurt in the first game.”
Again the opponent that delivered misfortune to Burgess’ door was West Georgia. Burgess was fully extended, arms outstretched, trying to make a catch, when he took a blow to the chest.
“They took me to the hospital, and the doctor told me the good news was that nothing was punctured,” Burgess said. “The bad news was that I had four broken ribs. It was a freakish football injury. They said it was the kind of injury they usually saw in car accidents.”
The prognosis for a comeback wasn’t optimistic, but Burgess pushed himself in physical therapy and got back on the field quicker than expected. He missed four games, but he was cleared in time to get practice reps for the home game with Limestone on Oct. 8. He produced 73 rushing yards in the soggy game against Limestone, but he also suffered a shoulder dislocation.
“I was out of that game for 10 or 15 minutes,” Burgess said. “I was in some pain, but they popped the shoulder back in place. After that, I was ready to go.”
When Catawba won at Mars Hill two weeks ago, Burgess was reasonably healthy and he contributed a rushing TD and a 59-yard reception.
Then he had that long touchdown run against UNC Pembroke on Saturday, and he got open for another potential touchdown on a pass play.
“I was hoping (Joseph) Dress could get the ball downfield to me,” Burgess said. “I kept running full speed, hoping he could hit me in stride, but he was under a lot of pressure and the ball was under thrown. I tried to adjust, but it scraped off my fingertips.”
Dress, Catawba’s third-string quarterback when the season began, is QB-1 after injuries knocked Mike Sheehan out for the season and have sidelined Reid Carlton at least for this week.
“Dress held his own at Pembroke,” Burgess said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Besides being an elusive runner, a sure-handed receiver and a willing blocker, Burgess has embraced a leadership role as a senior.
“He’s one of those guys that’s always encouraging you,” said freshman cornerback Cris Page, who had three interceptions. “If I make a good play, he’s the first one to tell me. If I miss a tackle, he’s the guy telling me I’ll make the next one.”
Freshman defensive lineman Cameron Davis also looks up to Burgess.
“He’s been an inspiration,” Davis said. “He’s taught me a lot about how to handle classes and how to carry myself.”
Burgess was a super high school player, rushing 340 times for 2,828 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns as a senior for a Freedom team that lost to Concord in the 2012 3A West final.
He went out with a bang in high school and he plans to do the same for Catawba (3-5).
“Three games left, and we really want to win out,” Burgess said. “When I look at the SAC standings, we’ve only got one loss. If we take care of our games, we could still go out as conference champions or co-champions.”
Whatever happens in those last three games, Burgess, an exercise science major, has been a championship person, getting the job done for four years, on the field and off.
“You don’t realize how much you need him until he’s not out there,” Walker said. “He makes big catches and he makes explosive runs. He always brings excitement to the field.”
Catawba hosts Brevard on Saturday. The homecoming game is at 1:30 p.m.