Burris making most of second chance

The Miami University sophomore has used football as a springboard to a better life. He can and does say that with pride.

“I’m in a great place now,” Burris said. “Things could’ve worked out differently, but they didn’t.”

He’s battling senior Justin Bowers for the starting strong safety job after cracking his scapula against Toledo last season and missing the last five games.

Burris has no problem with daily competition.

“We’re all competitive,” he said. “The coaches said nobody’s spot is locked in.”

Those who knew Burris as a youth in New Orleans might not believe he’s here today. His grades kept him from playing for a stretch. He admittedly made some bad choices and was heading down a road that was not promising.

And then came August, 2005. That’s when Hurricane Katrina rolled into town.

“My family lost everything,” Burris said. “It turned out to be like a second chance for me.”

He went to live with his brother, Bryan Bell, in Humble, Texas. There wasn’t a lot to do in Humble, a sleepy Houston-area town that Burris compares to Oxford. He stayed out of trouble, started taking academics seriously and put his heart into football.

Eventually, a Miami coach went down to Texas and wanted to meet him. The coach was Lance Guidry.

“My coach was like, ‘A guy from Miami has come to see you,’ ” Burris recalled. “I was like, ‘Miami? Oh wow, I’m about to commit this day.’ Then I saw the M on his chest and I was like, ‘What is this red thing?’ “

The Hurricanes hadn’t come calling. It was the RedHawks, and Burris decided they were worth a visit. “That’s when I fell in love with the school,” he said. “The campus was great. The people were great.”

He now has family in North Carolina, Texas and Louisiana. His mother is back in New Orleans. When Burris goes home, he tries to spend some time there and in Humble.

“The storm basically changed my life around,” Burris said. “It’s got good things and bad things to it. For me, I will say it was a blessing. I had a better life experience in Texas than what I had in New Orleans. I was going down the wrong path.”

Today, he is a significant player at Miami who’s got solid grades. He’s majoring in kinesiology and health. Burris, who does a good amount of drawing in his spare time, said he tries to have the same mind-set in the classroom and on the field.

“You’ve basically got to go hard everywhere,” he said. “It’s a challenge both ways.”

Burris collected 16 solo tackles and two assists while forcing one fumble last season. He got hurt while returning a kickoff. “I caught the ball, a man came down, and he hit me hard,” Burris said. “I had some teary days, but I got through it.”

MU defensive coordinator Jay Peterson called the 5-foot-10, 179-pound Burris “a physical kid who’s gotten much stronger.” It’s possible that Bowers and Burris might rotate all season.

“As hard as we want them to play, they understand that nobody is going to play 80 plays,” Peterson said. “They are fully engaged, and they understand what it’s going to take.”

Asked to compare the two players, Peterson replied, “Brison is faster. Bowers is thicker, more of a hammer back there.”

“I’m super fast, I can catch, and I can hit,” Burris said. “Anything deep, I go get.”

LOCALS IN TWO-DEEP: Three Butler County players are listed in Miami’s latest two-deep lineup. D.J. Brown (Lakota West) is starting at free safety, while Jake Wurzelbacher (Badin) and J.J. Greenwood (Middletown) are backing up Andy Cruse and Nick Harwell, respectively, at wide receiver positions.

GCL REPRESENTS: Three of the RedHawks’ quarterbacks are from the Greater Catholic League: Austin Boucher (Kettering Alter), Drew Kummer (La Salle) and Austin Gearing (Fenwick).

“I actually never thought about that,” Boucher said with a smile. “If I’m not mistaken, I think Alter’s won a few state championships compared to the other teams. I’ve got to set the standard for the rest of the GCL QBs.”

MORE LIVE ACTION: Miami will have an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Yager Stadium. Start time is 11 a.m.

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