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Saturday, September 8, 2001
Burrow wearing many hats this season
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online
Graduate assistant coach Jim Burrow won't do anything demonstrative when any of the Blackshirts he coaches get announced to the 77,000-plus Big Red faithful that will be all wound up for a Saturday night clash-of-cultures battle against Notre Dame. But his face will light up enough to illuminate all of Memorial Stadium for their primetime thriller when he sees Nebraska's middle linebacker during their traditional pregame Tunnel Walk.
It's not just because No. 48 is a gritty, fifth-year senior who worked his way up from the scout team to the third team and then eventually to the backup spot behind All-American Carlos Polk the past two years before finally getting a chance to finally wear a Blackshirt this season as a senior. Or because he never complained about it.
He'll have a lump in his throat because he's proud that his son, Jamie Burrow, is living out his dream playing for the Cornhuskers just like he did in the mid-'70s.
Jim Burrow, an assistant coach at Washington State from 1981-'86 and at Iowa State from 1987-'94, says he got back into coaching after being inspired by his two boys on the Huskers -- along with Jamie, his other son Dan is a redshirt freshman walk-on -- yet there is one major drawback to sharing space on Tom Osborne field: He can't be a fan.
"It makes me proud when I'm out there with him, but it's also a little nervewracking at times, especially that first game (against TCU)," says Jim. "(Jamie) was starting his first game, and yet I have responsibilities on the sideline so I had trouble being able to watch him. As a fan, I could always zero in on him."
Of course, Jim was willing to sacrifice such a rite of parenthood to not only get another chance at being involved in big-time college football at his alma mater, but to be around his sons more than any other parent on the squad.
Jamie was open to having his dad on the sidelines each week and in his mug at practice. For one, he was used to it from having Dad as his position coach back at Ames High School in Iowa. Back then, though, Jim admits to being a little tough on his son and that they butted heads more often than they would have liked to.
Sure, Jim admits to being a little tougher on Jamie than the others now during practices, yet it's not his place to do such a thing anymore. That's defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Craig Bohl's job. So instead, Jim throws his two cents in when he can.
"Sometimes I see him do a few things and I know that Coach Bohl wasn't looking, so we can talk about it after practice," says Jim. "He's always listened to me pretty well."
Jamie admits to seeing both good and bad with the unique situation.
"It is tough for me at times," says Jamie, who is second on the team with 11 tackles in two games. "Anytime your dad is around you in coaching, he's going to bring some of the practice or the game home with you afterwards. My little brother is here too, so he takes some of the focus off of me. My dad does have input in what I'm doing, so he does come over to me during practice to see how I'm doing.
"And if I mess up, he's going to be harder on me than my own positions coach."
Of course, Jamie doesn't have to spend any time looking into the sea of red hoping to make eye contact with his dad after he makes a sack or blasts a fullback on a third-and-1.
"It's also really nice to experience the good things," says Jamie. "After a big play, coming off the field and having your dad and little brother there is a real plus."
|Jamie Burrow has had three tackles-for-loss in the first two games.|
There should be many big plays for Jamie this year. After biding his time as a reserve the past four years (including his redshirt season), the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder has been given the reigns as the team's Mike (middle) linebacker. All the waiting, endless work and settling to get your licks in blowouts against Baylor and Iowa State were worth it when he received his Blackshirt earlier this summer, signifying his spot in the starting 11 was his to lose.
"It was definitely emotional," says Jamie. "An outsider has no idea how huge of an accomplishment that it is. They see it and they think it's a big deal, but when it's you and you see it, and get it for the first time, words can't even describe what is going through your head.
"Just being around this program through my dad and what he's always told me, it made me respect the Blackshirts more than the average person, and even the people here because I know the tradition that goes with it and I know that people used to cry when people used to get their Blackshirt."
Jamie didn't cry, but he got nostalgic that day thinking about what it took to get it.
"When I came here I knew that for sure that if I did what I was capable of, I'd get one year to start," he says. "I backed up an All-American for two years. I do think that it makes it a greater accomplishment. I went through the whole process of the scout team, working my way up from the third team to the second. I feel like I accomplished a lot, and it means a lot to me."
On a defense that starts four underclassmen, Jamie is a calming influence in the middle. Though he doesn't have the experience listed next to his name or on his bio sheet, he absorbed everything from Polk, with his biggest lesson being to know what the other 10 people on D are supposed to be doing so you can fill in the gaps when need be.
That's why, despite a brazen talent waiting in the wings in true freshman linebacking stud Barrett Ruud, who made 10 tackles in the 42-14 laugher over Troy State last week, Jamie is keeping his Blackshirt.
"The thing that I want everybody to recognize is that we really feel good about our starter -- Jamie Burrow's played very well in the games that's he's played so far," said Bohl. "He's a seasoned vet, so we're going to continue to make sure that Jamie gets the lion's share of the reps."
What helps is that Jamie understands that his role is to bring Ruud along and not feel threatened by him. It also works out well that their dads played together at Nebraska, so they've known each other from treks to Lincoln every year and being in the midst of Al Bundy-ish, "remember that hit I made" get-togethers during mini-reunion weekends.
"There's a long maturing process that takes place. I'm a fifth-year senior, but I feel even more mature than that," says Jamie, who already has his degree in biological sciences and is a two-time First-Team Academic All-Big 12 member. "I'm confident in where I am right now, and I'm confident that Barrett will be a great player -- one of the best players we've ever had here -- and I'm confident in my ability to help him through it."
Perhaps Ruud will take notice this week in how to prepare for what is more an event than merely a big game. The 17th-ranked Fighting Irish are the first colossal challenge for Nebraska and a big stepping stone if the Huskers are to remain on track for a return to a national title game. Notre Dame has a Touchdown Jesus-sized chip on its shoulders after last year's 27-24 loss in overtime to the Huskers. Featuring a power running game behind Julius Jones and a monstrous O-line, as well as a passing game to go with it due to Matt LoVecchio's accurate right arm, the Irish will give the Blackshirts a perfect measuring stick to see where they stand as a unit.
"This is a big opportunity for me," says Jamie. "Last year, I actually didn't get one defensive snap -- I just played special teams. I've been waiting my whole career to make an impact, and I don't see any other better game to do it than this one."
And if he does come through with double-digit tackles as the focal point in stopping the Irish's running game, there's no question who'll be most anxious to bear hug the life out of him on the sideline.
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online. He can be reached at Marc.Connolly@abc.com.
The thing that I want everybody to recognize is that we really feel good about our starter -- Jamie Burrow's played very well in the games that's he's played so far. He's a seasoned vet, so we're going to continue to make sure that Jamie gets the lion's share of the reps. ”
||— Assistant coach Craig Bohl