Growing up in Enterprise, Alabama, Brandon Burks had one goal and one goal only in his mind. He wanted to play pro ball.
The five-foot-nine, 209-pound running back got a taste of his dream in 2016, with a couple of stints with the Green Bay Packers before finishing out the year with the New York Jets. By the time he got into NFL circles, he’d heard about the CFL but he never thought he’d play in it.
“I told myself at one time I’d never go to the CFL. If it’s not the NFL that’s not my goal,” Burks said on Wednesday, a day before the Toronto Argonauts’ hopeful would play in his second preseason game. “God works in mysterious ways.”
A free-agent after the Jets released him, his dream went in the blender with the rest of his knee in May, 2017.
“I tore my ACL, MCL, meniscus,” Burks said. It set off a full season away from the game he loves. It also put things in perspective for him. He knew he needed to show teams that he could get back to the form he showed at Troy University, where he ran for 2,253 yards over 45 games. So he started looking at his options.
He went to a CFL team’s free-agent camp, but his 40 time wasn’t where it should have been. He did a pro day, then The Spring League. With each outing, his knee felt stronger and he got more confident in it.
You probably saw him pass his next test last Friday. He ducked, started, stopped, hurdled a downed Hamilton d-lineman, then darted back in the other direction around the Ticats’ defence and into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown.
He said as soon as he hopped over Ticats’ d-lineman Roman Braglio, he could see his path to a touchdown.
“I don’t like to quit,” Burks said. “As soon as I landed, I saw Chandler Worthy and by my second step I saw the pylon and I knew I had to get there if I wanted to score. So I just turned it on.”
A look at the Argos roster tells you that there’s a crowded house when it comes to running backs. James Wilder Jr. is securely locked in as the starter and Canadians Anthony Coombs and Greg Morris also factor in. Then there’s still occasional running back Martese Jackson and another newcomer in Boom Williams.
Argos GM Jim Popp said that there’s no such thing as being “set” at any position.
“We’re set when you (consider) we have James Wilder starting, when you have Jackson returning,” he said. “You have to finish a game maybe with Jackson or (fullback) Declan Cross or Morris.
“The whole issue is it’s one thing to get through the game. The next issue is who’s your guy? James was the next guy to Brandon Whitaker a year ago, even if he wasn’t playing.”
Popp reminds that the Argos used Wilder on special teams for the first half of last season. Things like use of designated imports at certain spots can change your team’s needs from week to week. After that year away from the game, Burks would be happy to fill any role needed.
“I just don’t want to go home,” he said. “That’s my mission. I’m not trying to fight for no position. I’m just trying to do the best thing I can do so I can get noticed and be able to stay on the team.”
With one more chance to impress ahead of Burks, it sounds like he’s already made a strong impression on Popp.
“He went started like a lot of them, right here,” Popp said, lifting his hand up to his chest, then ramping it upward, “and he’s done this the whole time.
“You always look at that with players. Sometimes guys will start up there and decline. Other guys will start there and plateau. He’s done nothing but rise. We saw that. We didn’t know he’d make that (touchdown) run. He also made another great run…and gained about 11 yards.
“Those things come to light when we start tackling and we’ve had zero tackling in practice. Based on him doing this and his performance,” Popp paused and snapped his fingers. “It’s all clicking.”