Improved outlook

His mother's lupus is in remission, his grades are up and Terps tackle Scott Burley is ready to thrive as a senior

College football

August 22, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

College Park -- Maryland offensive lineman Scott Burley does not want to research his mother's disease, or know any more about lupus than what she tells him and what he's seen.

"As long as she's doing well," he said, "I'm happy."

Sabrina Lucas is doing well - her lupus is in remission - and for the first time in a few years, everything seems to be going right for her son, too.

Burley, a native of Baltimore and former Woodlawn High standout, was a freshman at Maryland when he learned his mother was diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease that attacks the immune system. His past two seasons were marred by injuries. Until recently, he was on academic probation and struggling to rebound from a poor semester his freshman year, he said.

This year, Burley has earned the starting job at left tackle, has boosted his grades and was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA on Thursday. He is poised to finally showcase the talent that wowed top Division I programs across the country when he was a high school junior. Burley is playing this season for his parents and to prove his career at Maryland "wasn't a bust."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he doesn't expect it to be.

"I really think if he continues to develop the way he is, he'll have a chance to play at the next level," Friedgen said. "He really has made a remarkable turnaround, and we're counting heavily on him to have a good year. If he wouldn't have a good year, it would really hurt us."

Burley, a baby-faced 6-foot-5, 324-pounder, said he thinks he can be one of the best tackles in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Now I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm doing well in school, football ... my mom is doing well. I think I can do a lot. I'm just waiting for my time so I can show everybody."

Burley and his mother have made significant progress.

During his sophomore season, Burley suffered two herniated lower discs while pushing up from a squat. He experienced numbness on his left side, and eventually underwent surgery. At the same time, his mother was enduring the worst of her lupus and was in the hospital for about three weeks.

She was too weak to walk up and down the steps and had to use a scooter.

"Oh, man," Burley said, "almost every weekend I could go home, I was home."

When he did return to Baltimore, his mother was usually in bed.

"For me being hurt from by back injury, and her going through that, I was really in a low part of my football career. I was worried about her so much, and then I was hurt. That was hard for me then.

"My dad, he just kept staying in my ear about never quitting," he said. "He was like, `Don't ever give up on anything.' I really took that to heart. I didn't want to disappoint him. I just kept at it. I don't like to disappoint my parents. I'm doing this for them."

It took Burley a year to get back to where he was before his first injury, but his comeback in 2006 lasted only seven plays. Burley turned his right ankle and heard it snap in the season opener against William and Mary.

"I thought that was the end for me in football," he said. "I was so depressed. I would want to go home all the time. I would call home so much. That's when my dad and my mom really kept me going. Now it's my time to stay healthy and do what I have to do."

Part of his responsibility this season includes protecting the blind side of an inexperienced quarterback - whether it's Jordan Steffy or Josh Portis. Despite his limited playing time at Maryland, Burley's teammates are unwavering in their confidence of him.

"I don't think he's in a position where he's being asked to do something he isn't fully capable of doing," right guard Andrew Crummey said. "It's never a question of him athletically. That's a solid thing for him. Mentally and maturity-wise, he's really grown. That's the biggest difference in the past year for him."

Another difference is the improved condition of his mother - not that that has kept Burley from calling her every now and then to check on her. He has always called her before and after every game - whether he played or not.

"I could tell that he's a mamma's boy, definitely," center Edwin Williams said with a grin. "He's talking with his mom any time he can. She's a very nice woman."

Assistant recruiting coordinator Jemal Griffin was an assistant coach at Woodlawn when Burley was a freshman and has followed the tackle's career since then. Griffin has developed a close relationship with the family after carting Burley to and from practice on many occasions, and guiding him to a spot on the Terps' roster.

"He's just like one of my sons," Griffin said. "Coach [Bryan] Bossard always refers to me as a `proud papa' when we're talking about Scott and Jason Goode," who also attended Woodlawn.

Burley didn't start playing football until high school because he was too heavy for the younger leagues. The staff at Woodlawn noticed his potential early, though, and Burley lived up to it. Penn State, Miami, Florida, Florida State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame recruited him.

"The kids put a lot of stock into the stars they receive, and he was a four-star guy, an All-American, had options of going to several schools," Griffin said. "When you come to college with those kind of accolades, a lot is expected of you. To this point, because of his injuries, he doesn't feel like he's lived up to that. It is important to him."

With little depth on the offensive line this year, Burley's success is important to Maryland, too.

"There's a bunch of people counting on him," offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. "Scott's waited a long time to start, so he wants to maximize the opportunity."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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