Versatility is Burgess' Middle Name

Last season Rudy Burgess was a one-man highlight film. Whether it was rushing for 186 yards against Stanford, or catching two fourth quarter touchdown passes in the Sun Bowl, #3 ignited the imagination each time his hands wrapped around the pigskin. As the starting tailback in 2005 substance may have overcame style, but the Sun Devil sophomore still had a never before seen trick up his sleeve last week – a half back pass that started the scoring in a win against Washington State.

"I was pretty excited to throw the ball downfield in the game," said Rudy Burgess. "All week it didn't work, but it was successful during the game. Coach Koetter said that once I get the ball, fake the run as much as I could, look downfield and throw as hard and as high as I can. It was like a movie in slow motion watching that ball float through the air for so long (laughs). Once the referee put his hands up (signaling a touchdown) I was excited."

The tailback added that in practice he was "getting rushed and not setting up my feet," but the ASU coaching staff still felt confident in executing that play, because the Cougars were likely to show a different defensive look than the team did in practice.

Burgess knows that the shelf life of that deception play is over, and not only will it not be run this week, but perhaps not for the rest of the season as well. Nevertheless, for the player who hails from Edwards, Calif. there is much to be excited about this week's contest against UCLA. "It's gonna be fun, like a homecoming," he stated. "I think we'll have a lot of fans and it will be like playing back at home. That's gonna add just more fuel to the fire." The tailback added with a smile that he cannot even guess how many tickets he needs to satisfy all the requests coming from his friends and family.

Another reason for Burgess (and the whole tailback core for that matter) to lick his chops for the match-up with the Bruins, is their inability to stop opposing rushing attacks. "I think our running game should come out of the box this week," he commented. "We have a lot of things set up and we'll be able to run the ball successfully. Our running game has stepped up a lot, and it will have to step up this week."

Burgess has been doing more than his fair share on the maroon and gold offense. He has a combined 867 yards rushing and receiving, and his seven touchdowns have already eclipsed the grand total of five he had in 2004. "I'm pretty satisfied with my performance this season," he said. "I could be doing a little bit better, but we have three great running backs in the rotation and we're doing great as a running back core."

The plan going into the season may have been to often shift the sophomore around the offense, but Burgess has no qualms spending as much time as he had thus far in the ASU backfield. "That's fine with me," he explained. "We've been successful doing that (way), and coach is pretty confident with me at tailback. I'm more of a threat there right now." One of the main reasons for this trend is his improved pass blocking skills, an attribute often overlooked with ball carriers. "Last year my pass blocking skills were in the trash (smile)," he admitted. "That was one of my main goals for this year, to come back and improve my pass blocking, so I wasn't just a one-role player running the ball."

Indeed, Burgess remained the proverbial jack of all trades. The team's game plans have been designed to showcase his versatility, even though most of it is just from the tailback spot. "We also throw the ball to the tailback in the slot, motion off the tailback," he explained. "Coach Koetter is spreading it out that way, instead of just lining up as a receiver."

"Rudy is our second leading receiver," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "We're designing more stuff to get Rudy the ball. We put more specific route (plays) for Rudy Burgess than any other tailback. He runs routes out the backfield like a wide receiver." Koetter added that thin numbers at wide receiver have also caused for Burgess to line up at wide receiver at times.

Despite his solid skills as a receiver, there's no doubt in Koetter's mind where Burgess' main responsibilities lie. "Rudy is our starting tailback," Koetter remarked. "If someone can eventually take it over from Rudy – that's good, because eventually I would like to move him to wide receiver. But it won't happen this year. Rudy came here as a wide receiver, and I made a deal with Rudy that he will have to be a stop-gap until we can get Keegan (Herring) and whomever else ready."

With that in mind, as the current campaign is coming to a close, is Burgess yearning for 2006 and a shot to be a full-time wideout? "Not really," he replied. "I'm just thinking of this season and finishing the task at hand. I'm gonna finish the season at tailback and play a little receiver. I'm just trying to help this team this year." His aid to the team is also manifested in his mentoring to true freshman running back Keegan Herring. "I show him the ropes. I help him out and sometimes he even helps me out, because he's watching me play. It's good to have that extra running back on the sidelines."

In 2004, Burgess was one of the primary return players on special teams. This season, Terry Richardson has been getting the lion share of punt and kick returns, while Burgess relishes his role as a gunner on one of the units. "I liked it when coach told me that I'll be making tackles on the punt team. I told the coaches I could do that, and I'm happy I had an opportunity to make a tackle last week."

One reason that Burgess, once considered not to be physical and durable enough as a ball carrier, can enjoy hitting opposing players, is his physical development that took place in the off-season. "I feel a lot better this year," he commented. "This time last year, I wasn't even ready for this game because of a shoulder injury. But I feel good right now, and I'll be ready for the rest of the games and the bowl game."

There may have been a time when Rudy Burgess wouldn't be too thrilled if he continued and finished his ASU career as a running back. These days, he takes everything in stride and is ready for whatever role is required of him. "I'm actually getting comfortable (at tailback)," he said. "If coach decides that he wants to keep me at tailback, I'm gonna start training as a tailback and get a lot bigger than I did last year." And who knows – maybe even more versatile too?

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