Nobody expected Ryan Burbrink to still be playing football, let alone at the Division I level.
Don’t tell him that.
If he wasn’t in uniform on the sidelines, he could easily be mistaken for a ball boy.
At 5-foot-8, Burbrink finds himself looking up to everybody in the Falcon locker room – literally.
There’s nobody shorter.
That has never stopped him.
He’s gone from nearly playing collegiate baseball, to a walk-on with the Falcons, to one of the most
versatile and valuable members of the Bowling Green football team, all in about four year’s time.
"He’s one of those guys you look at you go, ‘No way, that can’t be him,’" Falcons coach Dino
Babers said of Burbrink, who has 36 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns this season. "If you
close your eyes and stop looking at his body, and then start turning on the tape and watching what he
does for our football team and watch what he does on the football field, he’s one of the most valuable
members of our team."
Burbrink has lived off of people telling him he can’t.
They’ve all said he was too small, he wasn’t fast enough. It was all just fuel to the fire for the
redshirt junior from Shady Side, Maryland.
His 36 catches are tied for second on the team, as are his three receiving touchdowns. And don’t forget
about the 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against Virginia Military Institute.
Burbrink was a second-team All-Mid-American Conference punt returner last season averaging 8.6 yards per
return. That number has swelled to 13.6 yards per return this season.
"Everybody had told me I wasn’t going to go D-I, then I ended up going Division I," Burbrink
said. "Now they’re saying, ‘OK you went D-I but you’re not going to play, you’re not going to earn
a scholarship. I hope you’re ready to pay off that debt.’ Then I ended up doing that. It’s just a fire
that’s driven me.
"No one really gave me a chance except (former wide receivers coach) Coach (Mark) Carney," he
said. "It just killed me inside. I felt with my talent that I could play anywhere. I just wanted to
prove everybody wrong. It burned me down and drove me crazy."
"You see a lot of guys like that in high school, and when they don’t play with that chip they just
end up going to school and do other things," Babers said. "There’s no doubt that he knows how
tall he is … but that’s not going to stop him from getting open and making plays for our football
Burbrink’s time in Bowling Green almost never happened.
A two-time all-state selection and three-time all-conference pick in baseball at DeMatha Catholic High
School, it looked as if a bat and glove were his future after generating no interest from football
But it only took one person to notice Burbrink.
In June heading into his senior year, Burbrink attended a one-day camp in Pittsburgh, where he met Carney
and now-former Bowling Green offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero.
It was winter, two weeks before signing day, before Burbrink heard from Bowling Green again. But when he
got a Facebook message from Carney, he called and was on campus a week later for his official visit.
It was the beginning of a special journey.
"I came out here and it snowed every day," Burbrink said. "I asked (Carney) if it snowed
every day and he chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, get used to it.’"
He embraced it. Burbrink went straight to work and earned a scholarship after his redshirt freshman
season after catching 39 passes, third on the team behind Chris Gallon (54) and Shaun Joplin (40).
"At first being a walk-on, it was no different than being a scholarship player except I was
paying," Burbrink said. "When I got put on scholarship it didn’t really hit me. I felt like a
scholarship guy. It really didn’t hit me until about the next year when my grandma was asking about
financial aid. I was just like, ‘Ma, it’s all taken care of.’ She was so relieved that she didn’t have
to stress about it anymore."
Today it remains nothing but relief.
Burbrink makes it a point to play for his family, which has battled through adversity in recent years.
Football? It’s just a stress-relieving tool.
"The big thing with football is it really brought my family together," Burbrink said. "We
were going through some hard times. But when football season came around my family was upbeat.
"It doesn’t feel like I’m just playing for myself out there," he said. "It’s like I’m
playing for my whole family. It wouldn’t be right if everything wasn’t like it was. When I’m out there I
play for them. All the stuff we’ve been through and all the struggles and all my grandmother’s struggles
… I feel like I can just unleash them from all that."