Burgess Mixing Football and Shakespeare

Blake Burgess has already won a lead role in the Auburn University spring production of Hamlet. He hopes to add the role of starting center on the 2011 football team during spring drills.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn has a long history of walk-ons contributing on the football field and even earning starting roles. With All-SEC center Ryan Pugh graduated, his understudy in 2010, Blake Burgess, is making a push to be the latest walk-on to earn first string status.

"It is a great opportunity," says Burgess, who will be a redshirt sophomore this fall. "I have definitely made progress. We had a great offensive line last year and I learned a lot from those guys, especially playing as many games as we did and being able to practice as much as we were able to last season. I think that I am in a much better spot than I was last year."

Another reason he is in a much better spot is that he is more physically prepared to play on the offensive line in the Southeastern Conference. "I am hovering right at 276 to 277 (pounds) right now and I am hoping to reach my goal weight of 285 by the fall," says Burgess, who is six-feet, two inches tall. "I came in at 235. It has been a long struggle to gain weight, but it has been fun."

So how has the former Vestavia Hills High standout gained so much weight? "I eat and I do it at all hours of the day," he says with a smile. "I am in the practice of doing something that Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) told me about. That is to wake up in the middle of the night and eat something. I have an alarm that wakes me at four o'clock and I get up and go eat something."

The center notes that he doesn't have a certain number of calories he tries to consume on a daily basis "They don't want you to focus so much on that," he says. "They just want you to eat constantly. They say you should have six to eight big meals a day. That is hard to do."

Burgess says the extra size has helped him a great deal as he blocks the big defensive linemen who populate rosters throughout the SEC. "I am not as fast as I used to be," he says. "When I first got here I used to be able to run with the linebackers and some of the speciality guys, but now I am definitely with that offensive line."

However, running fast isn't a priority for a center, but being quick is and that is one of the strengths Burgess brings to the position. He notes he is trying to be the type of player the Tigers need at center in Gus Malzahn's offense.

"We need a solid back block, we need a strong push off the line at the very start of the play and Pugh was very good at that," Burgess says. "He knew exactly what his role was in the offensive line and that is what I?am trying to work towards."

Blake Burgess is shown at practice this week.

He notes that Pugh, a four-year starter for the Tigers who is trying to make an NFL roster this year, spent time teaching him the position. "Last year we got a rapport and he helped me out a lot," the walk-on says.

One of the good competitions of spring training for the Tigers is at center where heavily recruited early high school graduate Reese Dismukes is also trying to win the starting job. Burgess says he is happy to have the opportunity to compete for first string status.

"I feel so blessed," he says. "It is something I have dreamt about my entire life. I came to Auburn thinking I was going to play defensive lineman because of how small I was, but I have been blessed by the coaching staff and all of the great friends I have on the team who have inspired me to get better and better. Now it is here. It is opportunity time so I am really excited."

Burgess has been impressed with Dismukes, who led Spanish Fort High to the Class 5A state championship as a senior. "He is a great kid, he is fantastic," Burgess says. "He is everything that everyone said he would be. The only thing is that it (college football) is a totally different game. He has got a ton of potential. He could be the starter next year. That decision is up to the coaches. I definitely think he has the talent to do it if the coaches think that he is ready."

Burgess is enjoying his Auburn experience away from football, too. "School is going well," he notes. "I am majoring in theater now. That is kind of my other passion. I am actually starring in a show coming up pretty soon. We are doing Hamlet. I am playing Claudius, who is the bad guy, so that is going to be good.

"In the fall I was dedicated to football 100 percent," he says. "In the spring our schedule is a little different, which allows me to do the theater and that is awesome."

Acting is something the football player has done for a long time. He says he got interested in doing it because of "pure jealously" in a sibling rivalry with his younger sister. "She was getting all of the attention and I didn't like it so I started getting into it," he recalls. "Eventually I started getting into it myself."

The son of Rick Burgess, a syndicated radio talk show host on the Rick &?Bubba Show, Blake was involved in a variety of theatrical productions before he came to Auburn where his grandfather, Bill Burgess, played fullback for the Tigers in the 1960s. Two of Blake's favorite roles so far were as Troy in High School Musical and as Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midnight Summer Night's Dream.

He isn't sure that many of his teammates know that he is a thespian. "I really haven't advertised it that much," he says with a laugh, although he says he won't mind if they come to Telfair Peet Theatre to watch him perform. Hamlet opens on April 12th and closes with a Saturday night performance on April 16, just hours after he plays in the annual A-Day spring game.

When he performs on the football field the lineman says he enjoys playing for offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. He notes that Grimes took the entire offensive line group to church with him last Sunday and then invited them over to his house after the service for more group bonding.

The 2010 offensive line was a close-knit group and a key to Auburn's run to the BCS National Championship. The 2011 Tigers are trying to recapture that camaraderie up front despite losing starters Lee Ziemba, Byron Isom and Mike Berry in addition to Pugh.

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