Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Henry Burris overcomes the naysayers

When the Calgary Stampeders said they would continue with Henry Burris’ contract in 2005, it was the first time he experienced it in his career.

“What every quarterback has had, whether it’s in the NFL or CFL, they’ve always been with the team for a number of years and have been able to achieve success and settle down and play their game. For me, this is the first time it’s happened. This will be the first time I’ve played back to back seasons. I can look forward to going into camp and actually knowing what the snap count is, knowing what Joe Schmoe’s last name is, where he’s from. A lot of times, you have to catch up on all those things. It takes time, especially when you run a hundred guys in training camp. You’re trying to get to know them all, their body language.”

With a newborn son at the time, Burris was looking forward to some sense of stability.

His position is not an easy one. The quarterback is the target. Everyone is gunning for him. So how does he prepare for the constant physical pounding?

“Repetitions. You get used to being hit. If a guy thinks about a hit, it’s going to hurt. The hit looks better to the fans than it does to us. When we actually feel it, it happens, and goes away real quick. With repetitions, you become used to everything. You’re the guy that’s wanted and everybody wants to hit you, but when you know that, you know you’re doing something good. Especially when the fans are getting on you and razzing you, you’re doing something good. If you weren’t, they wouldn’t care less about you. Nobody would say anything about you. You know you’re doing something good when people are saying something and trying to get in your head. As a quarterback, if they can capture your mental state, you’re basically done. Game’s over. You should take yourself out of the game. Bring in the substitute. Bring in the back up. Therefore you have to work on repetitions of staying focused, being mentally tough, and making sure when you step on the field, you know exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to get it done. Over time, you’re going to make adjustments.”

So what’s it like to walk out onto that field? Can it be described?

“Your first year, it’s a wow experience. When you first take the field, and especially when you’re announced as the starting quarterback, you hear the fans go crazy, it’s like, oh my God. Your heart really pumps. You talk about butterflies major. You’re nervous as can be. Going into my sixth season, I’m able to zone things out. As you play more, you become used to the environment you’re placed in and adjust well to things. Therefore, I’m just able to relax and go out and play without thinking about things. Now, I don’t even hear it. I just focus on what our game plan is – you want to beat that team. You know you only have so many years to go. Each and every day you want to give it your best and make sure when you step on that field, you’re in tip top shape. You know the game plan. You want to make that team wish they never want to play you. That’s how we, as players, approach the game. That’s our competitive spirit.”

Because of his background, getting the opportunity to quarterback has not been easy. There were times when a black quarterback was thought to be inferior – such as the days when Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham played.

“Times have changed a lot. The African-American quarterbacks you have playing in the NFL now, they’re supermen. If you’re an average quarterback, it’s tough still as an African-American quarterback. You have to be able to run as fast as a speeding bullet or you’ve got to be bigger than Dante Culpepper – 6’6,” 260, who runs the 4-4. Me, I’m not 6’6,” not 260, and can’t run a 4-4. Those guys still have those distinct athletic features that just separate them from the rest. But it’s a lot better than what it used to be. We’re still working on that curve. You’ve got guys like Quincy Carter who are now in the NFL. He had some troubles, but he’s continued to work at things. But still, guys like Damon Allen, there’s no way he shouldn’t be playing in the NFL. There are a lot of guys up here that should be down south. It works both ways. Guys like Dave Dickenson should have had a chance, Danny McManus, Ricky Ray, Anthony Calvillo. We’re guys that are enjoying our time here. Canada has done nothing but be a magnificent blessing to our lives. We’re more than thankful for it. It if wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t be playing football.”

Burris started his charity softball tournament in 2005 and supporting Big Brothers and Big Sisters is particularly important to him.

“We wanted to come up with an original event that has never occurred here in the city. Let’s put together some of Calgary’s finest celebrity athletes, mingle with corporate Calgary, the fans, and also enable those who can’t afford to go to a gala-like event.

“My father was always my ultimate big brother. I was blessed to have a father. A lot of people come from single-family homes. I wanted to take what I’ve been able to learn from my father and mother and share it with those out there. Big Brothers and Big Sisters enabled me to come about from my high school days, college, professional ball, and help give back to those who are less fortunate. I was at the other end of the spectrum in Detroit, in professional football, having an opportunity to meet those guys while I was growing up. It’s the wow factor. Through their troubles and how they were able to overcome some of the obstacles in their lives. I want to be able to share those with some of the little kids here in the city – mentorship. That’s why we need more males to spend the time with kids. Maybe an hour a week, come out and spend the time. It will change somebody’s life.

“Growing up in Oklahoma, it’s primarily a football state. We’re just blessed to have sports, whatever it is, it’s just there at our discretion to let us choose which route we want to go. You kind of catch onto looking at certain teams, certain athletes. Whenever that athlete is on television or on radio, we’re glued to that television set or to the radio. You’re listening for something that might stick out to you, like what I call a high-catcher. Just being able to see what guys like Emmitt Smith, the obstacles like guys like Warren Moon had to overcome by going to the CFL and work his way back to the Houston Oilers and impact the lives like myself. To see those guys go through those obstacles and to know that if they can do it, then I know I can do it. Emmitt Smith told me when I met him the first time at his football camp, if you have a dream, despite what obstacles are set up against you, you can make that dream come true.

“I had to go through where people said I was too small. I continued to work my tail off. I’m not the fastest. I’m not the biggest, not the strongest. But nobody plays harder than me. With Emmitt’s passion and playing through a separated shoulder, broken ribs, he’s definitely showed that passion.”