BURNFIN: A professional football player ruined sophomore season


I once lost a high school football game because of an NFL football player.

I once lost a high school football game because of an NFL football player.

I knew early on in my short football "career" that I was never going to make it to the NFL.

Unlike my baseball dreams that underwent a long, grueling erosion over many years, I knew fairly quickly in football that I was not special.

I was good my freshman year at Colony (Ontario, Cali.) High School, winning defensive MVP at linebacker on a mediocre team. My sophomore year I even started on a worse-than-mediocre varsity team, leading in tackles through the first few games of the season.

But right before conference play began, our varsity team added a freshman who had been tearing apart the frosh league at running back.

In his first practice, I found myself repeatedly missing tackles as he juked left or right, leaving me grasping to tackle the airstream as he ran by. But, in the goal line period of practice, the coaches again put the tiny freshman in the backfield. This was my chance, he would not have room to out-run me or make a move in the tight confines of the crowded line of scrimmage.

I was probably 30 pounds bigger than he was, and my one specialty was being able to clog the middle of the line on inside runs. I just knew I had him.

The quarterback took the snap, handed the ball to the fresh meat for a straight-ahead ISO — he was mine.

A split second later, I was on my back, staring at the numbers on the freshman's back as scored the touchdown going right through me. At that point, I was glad that the freshman was on my team, even if it meant my ego was black and blue for a couple of weeks.

Our first game after he was named to the varsity squad at running back was against our cross-town rival Ontario High School.

It was a back-and-forth game and we even led at halftime. But the new varsity member at running back had two very costly fumbles on his very first two carries of the season.

Those fumbles were pivotal in the frustrating loss to Ontario, which could have been our only win in conference that season. It's something that has stuck with me through all the years of watching football and following the careers of some of my teammates, including that young freshman who fumbled twice, Omar Bolden, who is now a defensive back for the Denver Broncos and will be playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Bolden led the Colony Titans to respectability and much more during his time in high school, rushing for more than 2,000 yards as a senior and the California Interscholastic Federation title in 2006.

Bolden was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and committed to Arizona State University, where he exlusively played defensive back.

He had a storied college career, including an All Pac-10 Conference First Team selection in 2010.

He forewent his senior year to enter the NFL Draft in 2011, and was selected in the fourth round.

He's played sparingly but has been on the active roster for the entire 2013 season as the Broncos tore through their schedule into the Super Bowl, totaling 27 tackles and a pass deflection.

He will now play in the biggest game of them all on Sunday in front of 100 million people, possibly becoming one of the select few to claim a championship ring at the highest level.

As for me?

My football career ended with a transfer to another school my junior year and an injury my senior year.

Good thing I transferred, though, because I could have lost my spot to yet another Colony freshman coming up through the ranks, Bobby Wagner, who just so happens to now be the starting middle linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks — the same Wagner who racked up 120 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, and seven pass deflections this season as one of the best linebackers in the league.

Wagner and Bolden will share the same MetLife Stadium field at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday as one of them will become Super Bowl Champion, the pinnacle of success for a professional athlete.

And I'll be on my couch watching them, trying not to remember what it felt like to get bulldozed by a freshman, and dreaming once again of being able to reach the "bigs" of my profession, covering the Super Bowl with the hordes of other media members that will invade New York/New Jersey area this weekend.

Sports Reporter J. Levi Burnfin can be emailed at lburnfin@gctelgram.com

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