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Vontaze Burfict: Candidate for redemption?

Oh, what a roller coaster ride it’s been for Vontaze
Burfict.

As a freshman, Burfict came to Arizona State as the most
highly-rated recruit in school history and it didn’t take
him long to make an impact. Just hours after gaining
academic eligibility, Burfict went out in his first
college game and registered 5 total tackles, 1.5 tackles
for loss and a thundering quarterback
sack
in ASU’s 50-3
cakewalk over Idaho State.

The sky was the limit.

But by the end of his junior season, Burfict was an
afterthought on a Sun Devils’ defense that desperately
needed playmakers and veteran leadership. In what turned
out to be his last college game, the player mentioned in
the preseason as a possible Defensive Player of the Year
candidate didn’t start and played just a handful of snaps
as ASU was manhandled by a superior Boise State team in
the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

Burfict announced he was going pro, despite a
lackluster junior campaign plagued by diminishing
productivity and continuing personal foul penalties.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, his performance – both on the
field and in team interviews – was legendary, but for all
the wrong reasons. Burfict ran the slowest 40-yard dash
among the linebackers in Indianapolis, put up a paltry
number of reps in the bench press and raised eyebrows
among team administrators and media members with his
responses to interview questions
.

A one-time sure-fire first round draft pick is now just
hoping to hear his name called at any time during this
week’s NFL Draft.

Burfict, who spoke to the media on only a couple of
occasions early in his Sun Devil career, is now making the
rounds, and for lack of a better term, doing damage
control in hopes of repairing his tarnished draft stock.
Dennis Dillon
of SI.com
penned a piece on Burfict that
talked about his demeanor on and off the field, and the
startling revelation that his disastrous Combine
performance was due to overwhelming nervousness.

At the Combine in Indianapolis, he bombed both
in the drills on the field (he ran a tortoise-like high-
4.9 in the 40) and during his interviews with teams. The
whole process overwhelmed him.

“Man, I’m always nervous,” Burfict said during a telephone
conversation from his Vegas hotel room. “But at the
Combine, it was a nervous like I was going to have a
nervous breakdown. Especially looking up at all those
coaches. For me to be in that spotlight, it was very
nerve-racking.”

The article also centers on Burfict’s decision to change
his workout routine and diet, which led to better
performances in pro day workouts all while boosting his
confidence.

“Whoever picks me in the draft is going to have a great
middle linebacker,” Burfict told Dillon.

Alyssa Roenigk of ESPN The Magazine
also wrote a piece on
Burfict and his rise from the ashes of Indianapolis.

Two weeks after ASU’s pro day, at the end of
March, Burfict has one final workout in front of scouts.
He weighs in at 245 pounds, a number he hasn’t seen since
his freshman season. He clocks a 4.8 40-yard dash, laughs
with players on the sideline and mingles with coaches and
scouts between drills. He looks at ease.

Personally, I’m pulling for Vontaze Burfict. Sure, in the
33 years I’ve been watching Arizona State football, I’ve
never been more frustrated by a single player – a player
who had worlds of talent but regressed in every way during
his stay in Tempe.

But like most, I can’t resist a good
redemption story. Burfict has had a tough 21 years on
this planet, and hopefully the challenges of the last year
will act as the fuel that propels him to greatness on
and off the
football field for years to come.