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Gulf's Burbridge not in it for glory

NEW PORT RICHEY — His mother is Polynesian. His middle name, Isileli, is the first name of his maternal grandfather. An aspiring marine biologist, he once caught a 5-foot blacktip shark near Anclote Key. Yet he never, ever eats fish.

Here's another fact about Gulf two-way junior Will Burbridge casual Bucs fans may not know: The brawny kid with the Beatles haircut, the one whose name can't be spotted anywhere near a list of area statistical leaders, is Gulf's overall MVP in the eyes of his coach.

"He's unsung," coach Jay Fulmer said. "But when it just comes to being a football player, he's the best football player on this team."

Watch tape from any Bucs game, and you'll see Burbridge, the fullback, lead blocking for county single-season rushing king Adrian "Bubba" Golden on practically every handoff. Watch the Bucs defense, and there's no telling where you'll see him.

"He plays wherever we need him (on defense)," Fulmer said. "He can play any spot out there."

He's endowed with size (6-2, 200 pounds), abnormal fleetness (4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash), soft hands (18 catches, 287 yards) and the power to remove one's sense of smell with a flush hit.

What he doesn't have is glory.

Burbridge hasn't run enough to amass noticeable numbers (55 carries, 374 yards), lined up at tight end enough to rack up discernible receiving yardage, or played enough linebacker to even approach triple digits in tackles (36 total, 26 solo). All he has really done is make himself invaluable.

He is, essentially, the Bucs' go-to guy for grunt work.

"I understand (about the minimal recognition), but I really don't care," Burbridge said. "We're winning, you know. I'll take as many blocks as they need so (Golden) will get touchdowns. I'm glad he broke the record, too."

Such is the gratification one derives from the most unheralded skill position in football. Burbridge sees the sweeps that go for 70 yards and knows he leveled the lead block that sprung the runner. He sees the quarterback standing upright in the pocket after throwing a deep post, and knows he protected him for another snap.

He hears Fulmer say Golden hasn't been tackled by a backside lineman all year and smiles sheepishly. When it comes to such thankless chores, Fulmer says there is none better than Burbridge.

In a full-house backfield, Fulmer believes he has one of a kind in Burbridge.

Apparently, so do coaches who must game-plan for him, and recruiters in need of a blocking back. Florida, Alabama, Georgia and UCLA are among those who have shown interest in Burbridge, who already has earned a qualifying ACT score.

"I thought he was a really fundamental part of their team offensively and defensively," said Pasco coach Tom McHugh, whose team handed Gulf (9-1) its lone regular-season loss and may see the Bucs again in the Class 3A playoffs.

"He's a tough kid, he's a big kid. I guess from watching him on film he does whatever the coaches tell him to do. I mean, he lines up at fullback, tight end, linebacker, safety."

This past spring, Fulmer publicly proclaimed Burbridge had NFL potential. Throughout the area, scribes smirked. Opponents snickered. Many wondered aloud if it was fair to anoint a 16-year-old in such a way. Then arrived the realization that the NFL is rife with B.J. Askews and Heath Evanses.

Guys valued for being all-purpose, if not All-America.

"He's one of those kids," McHugh said, "that you've got to have on your team if you want to have a winning team."

. fast facts

Playoff games

All games Friday at 7:30. Admission is $7

Class 4A: Daytona Beach Seabreeze at Land O'Lakes

Class 3A: Orlando Bishop Moore at Pasco; Gulf at St. Cloud; Williston at Nature Coast*

*Nature Coast's team, currently suspended by the FHSAA, could be forced to forfeit

Gulf's Burbridge not in it for glory 11/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 6:03pm]

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