Long-snapper Burdetsky brings perspective, consistency
VERO BEACH -- For USF's football players, this week spent training across the state, away from campus and all its distractions, has been about bringing a team together before the season, and coach Willie Taggart has emphasized the idea of players "getting comfortable being uncomfortable."
In football terms, that means being ready in any situation, however unfavorable -- practicing in the hot midday sun, scrimmaging with a surprise workout at 4:30 a.m., pushing through whatever adversity presents itself.
For Bulls long-snapper David Burdetsky, there's already some perspective in place to help with that.
Last spring, when many college kids were spending spring break in Panama City Beach, the sophomore walk-on from Jacksonville spent the week in Panama City -- in Panama, on a mission trip with Athletes in Action, as part of a group of players who brought football camps, much-needed food and more to underprivileged children there.
"It was a great trip," Burdetsky said. "These were villages that really don't get much food. We did football camps at night, and during the day we brought them food, big ol' grocery bags of food."
Asif Shaikh, a chaplain who works with USF and Bucs players and has organized the spring mission trips, said the time there allows players to be appreciated as regular people, and reminds them not to take so much of their regular lives for granted.
"Being able to see these guys interact with them is really big, because it puts a different perspective on them when they come back home," he said. "We see a lot of poverty, and situations you don't see even in the poverty of America. To be in air-conditioning, to have hot water and pressure on your water, to have the ability to wash your clothes every day and dry them, these are things they all have here."
This year's spring trip included eight players from Ole Miss, and two NFL players in Bucs tackle Demar Dotson and Bengals running back Cedric Peerman. Shaikh said the generosity of the NFL players, who are in a position to help buy food for locals, to pay for meals during the trip, is also a good thing to rub off on younger players.
Burdetsky handled USF's long-snapping duties last year as a redshirt freshman, taking over for a three-year starter in Mike Walsh, and this fall, he'll work with a new kicker and punter, with Maikon Bonani now in Titans camp and Justin Brockhaus-Kann also graduated. He's already comfortable with the people he'll be working with -- he's good friends with former walk-on Mattias Ciabatti, who will likely be not only the starting punter but also the holder on kicks. Burdetsky appreciates the confidence that comes with a year of experience under his belt.
"It's a big difference. I'm not as nervous going into the first game, I know what to expect," he said. "The crowd's not as big of a deal, the big TVs, the big lights. I'm used to it all now and excited for the first game."
So often, a long-snapper's name is only heard when a snap sails high or low and results in a special-teams turnover, but when Taggart looked at video of Burdetsky's freshman year, he liked what he saw from a first-year starter.
"David's been very consistent," Taggart said. "When we talk about blue-collar, he's a blue-collar kid. He just comes to work every day. You dont' ever see him upset or mad or complaining. Every day's the same thing. He's great for our football team."
Burdetsky, whose father, Dave, lettered at UCF as a defensive lineman in 1982, is mentally prepared for the season ahead, but he's also worked hard to be physically ready as well.
When Taggart's staff came on board in December, they told him the Bulls were making fundamental changes to their blocking schemes on the punt unit -- in the past, Burdetsky's role was to make a clean snap, then run downfield to help cover the returner. Now, he's being asked to block a defender as well, and he's put on 15 pounds since March (to 225) to help with that. Taggart said being a long-snapper can be a thankless job, but it's one Burdetsky does well.
"They don't get a lot of credit for what they do," he said. "He's huge -- to snap the ball back there, be accurate and get it back quick, you need someone who's consistent and tough. That's what I see in David."