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, with coach Willie Taggart emphasizing players "getting comfortable being uncomfortable." In football, that means being ready in any situation, however unfavorable — practicing in the hot midday sun, scrimmaging in a surprise workout at 4:30 a.m., pushing through whatever adversity presents itself. Bulls long snapper David Burdetsky has some perspective 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, Panama. He was on a mission trip with Athletes in Action, part of a group of players who took football camps, much-needed food and more to underprivileged children.
"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 old grocery bags of food."
Asif Shaikh, a chaplain who works with USF and Bucs players and has organized the trips, said the missions allow players to be appreciated as regular people and remind them not to take so much of their 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," Shaikh 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 trip included eight players from Mississippi and NFL players Demar Dotson of the Bucs and running back Cedric Peerman of the Bengals. Shaikh said the generosity of the NFL players, who are in a position to help buy food for locals and to pay for meals during the trip, is also a good lesson for the younger players.
Burdetsky handled USF's long-snapping duties last year as a redshirt freshman. He already is comfortable with the people he'll work with this season. He's good friends with former walk-on Mattias Ciabatti, likely the starting punter and the holder on kicks. Burdetsky appreciates the confidence that comes with a year of experience.
"It's a big difference," he said. "I'm not as nervous going into the first game. I know what to expect. 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."
Often a long snapper's name is heard only when something goes wrong. But Taggart likes what he has seen of Burdetsky's freshman year on video.
"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 don't 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, but he also worked hard to be physically ready.
When Taggart's staff came on board in December, it told him the Bulls were making fundamental changes to blocking schemes on the punt unit. Last year Burdetsky's role was to make a clean snap, then run downfield to help cover the returner. Now he is being asked to block a defender as well, and he has put on 15 pounds since March (to 225) to help with that.
Taggart said long snapper can be a thankless job but Burdetsky does it 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."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3346.