As usual, major college recruiters regularly streamed through DeMatha during the 2010 football season, eager for a look at coveted All-Met offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, among others. Few visitors to the Hyattsville private school even bothered to ask then-coach Bill McGregor about the team’s leading receiver.
At 5 feet 8, 165 pounds, Ryan Burbrink was considering opportunities to continue his career at New Hampshire, Monmouth (N.J.) and Shepherd when Bowling Green offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on three weeks before National Signing Day.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Burbrink said of the lack of interest. “My whole life people have been telling me I was too short, I was too slow. How was I going to take a hit? I always had to prove myself.”
Burbrink isn’t any taller these days, though he has bulked up by 16 pounds since joining the Falcons. This fall, the wide receiver most talent evaluators thought better equipped to play lower-level college football demonstrated he can match up just fine against Football Bowl Subdivision competition.
As a redshirt freshman, Burbrink emerged as one of Bowling Green’s top receivers, catching 36 passes for 305 yards in 11 games while also handling punt return duties. The Shady Side native has already locked up a scholarship as the eight-win Falcons prepare for an appearance in Thursday’s Military Bowl at RFK Stadium against No. 24 San Jose State.
“The kid goes hard with everything,” Bowling Green wide receivers coach Mark Carney said. “He’s given absolutely everything he has since he got here, whether it’s on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom or in the meeting room. He’s a fun guy to coach.”
Burbrink, 19, played three seasons of varsity football at DeMatha, earning most valuable player honors from McGregor as a senior. He recorded 566 receiving yards and six total touchdowns in 2010 and also returned kicks and played cornerback, often exciting his teammates and coaches with his maximum-effort plays.
While at DeMatha, Burbrink actually attracted more attention from college coaches as a baseball prospect. The center fielder earned Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year and second-team All-Met honors as a senior, hitting .432 with 20 stolen bases.
But Burbrink preferred the adrenaline rush he could only get on the football field and never seriously considered pursuing baseball.
DeMatha baseball coach Sean O’Connor said Burbrink could be playing in the minor leagues right now and calls him “one of the best pure athletes I’ve ever coached.”
Carney and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero first recognized those qualities in Burbrink at a one-day camp at the University of Pittsburgh during the summer before his senior season. The coaches believed he fit in the Falcon offense as a slot receiver but didn’t have a scholarship to offer at the position. Months later, he jumped at their offer to walk on at the northwest Ohio school.
After a year of scout-team duty, Burbrink showed his promise with a team-best seven catches during the spring game in April. By the time Bowling Green rolled intoUniversity of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for its Sept. 1 season opener, Burbrink was a starter.
His mother, Michelle, and a host of other family members made the trip to “The Swamp” for his debut, and he took advantage of his chance with a game-high eight catches for 45 yards as the four-touchdown underdog Falcons hung with the Gators in a 27-14 loss.
“That kind of boosted my confidence,” said Burbrink, who has recorded at least one catch in each game he has played and now ranks third on the team in receptions.
Late in the season, Bowling Green Coach Dave Clawson pulled Burbrink aside and told him he’d go on scholarship, provided he take care of his school work. Burbrink finished the semester with a 3.1 grade point average, and two weeks ago, the coach announced it to the team in a post-practice gathering.
The news brought cheers from Burbrink’s Falcons teammates. For Burbrink, the achievement marked the latest hurdle cleared in a career full of them.
“I’m never satisfied,” Burbrink said. “I know I’ve got to keep at it, but it’s a great feeling that your hard work has paid off and everything is going to be taken care of.”