Burfict relishes the big stage this weekend

Vontaze Burfict is feeling no pressure. Not after being the highest rated recruit in the more-than-a-century-old Arizona State football program. Not even after becoming a new icon of the team just two games in his career.

Already Burfict's likeness has been featured in the pregame pageantry at Sun Devil Stadium. And the fans in the stands have come to expect the big play ability that comes with being a five-star prospect by Scout.com

Rather than worry about the expectations associated with such a billing, Burfict has enjoyed them.

"It doesn't bring pressure at all," Burfict said. "It's kind of cool. So many great athletes have been through here - guys like Terrell Suggs and Jake Plummer. So to be named the best (recruit ever at ASU), that's pretty amazing."

Despite being a few months removed from high school, the level of comfort Burfict has in being a budding college football star has been evident in his play. He is tied for second on the team with 10 tackles, despite sharing time at middle linebacker with senior Gerald Munns.

Burfict is also one of two Sun Devils to produce a sack - a monster hit that drove Idaho State quarterback Russell Hill flailing backward during Burfict's debut, a 50-3 Sun Devil win on Sept. 5.

Judging by the fans' reaction, it was a play that instantly transformed Burfict from hype to reality.

"The crowd has just been amazing," he said. "They love me here, so I expect to give them what they want.

"I could do better. I'm still adjusting to everything, so we'll see what happens."

Burfict finished his inaugural game with five tackles. He matched that tally during a 38-14 win against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 19 to go along with a pair of broken up passes.

Burfict hopes to continue his learning curve when the Sun Devils travel to face Georgia on Saturday. As has been the trend with Burfict, he doesn't see facing an SEC team for his initial road game as any added pressure.

"Not a factor at all - it's a regular game," Burfict said. "We're going to take this team like any other team we've played. (Georgia) may be a little more skilled, but we're going to come out and give it our hardest."

Needless to say, the ASU coaching staff has been impressed with the impact Burfict has made early.

"This is his third college game coming up, so it's hard to totally judge him yet," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "But he was better against Louisiana-Monroe than he was in his first game, so I think he'll get better and better all the time."

One of the reasons Burfict cites for making his transition to Division I football look seamless is the support of his teammates.

Burfict is the latest of five players that have followed the pipeline from Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., to ASU.

In 2008, tailback Ryan Bass along with fellow linebackers Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee did it. This year, former Corona defensive tackle William Sutton committed to become a Sun Devil before Burfict followed, pulling out of a commitment to USC to join his high school mates in Tempe just before signing day.

"Oh man, it's big having them here," Burfict said. "They're pretty much why I committed here. There is nothing better than winning a state championship with them then coming back here with them. It's pretty sweet."

Burfict said he has been fully confident in his decision to back away from USC, the seven-time defending Pac-10 champions. He also found it interesting the Trojans were upset by Washington last week.

"I was going for them to lose, so it happened," Burfict said.

With as comfortable as Burfict is wearing the maroon and gold these days, it's hard to imagine just a few weeks ago he was carrying a tremendous burden, worrying if he would be ruled eligible to play in games by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Since the start of practices in early August, Burfict had been wowing coaches and teammates with his playmaking and big hits. All the while he wasn't sure if all the hard work could be put to use against an actual opponent.

Finally, the day before the Sun Devils opened against Idaho State, he received a call from his academic counselor, deeming him eligible. He instantly jumped out his bed in celebration.

"I knew I could finally focus more on football and my college classes - no longer looking back at high school, wondering if they were going to clear me or not," Burfict said. "It was stressful because I love football. There is nothing better than playing football."

Reach the reporter at chrisdrexel@hotmail.com

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