The Louisville defense put together a dominant performance in the team's 49-7 season-opening win against Ohio on Sunday afternoon.
Anchoring a Cardinal defense which held Ohio to just 273 yards of total offense on the day was linebacker James Burgess. The sophomore, now entering his first season as a full time starter, led the team with 6.5 tackles against the Bobcats, including 1.5 tackles for a loss.
"We were prepared for anything they had to run. We knew everything they were doing," Burgess said following the game.
"I think it is (a statement win)," he added. "I believe we have the best defense in the nation and we're going to prove it."
As a freshman last season, Burgess showed flashes of his knack for playmaking on the defensive side of the ball. Starting four games in his first season, the Homestead, Fla. native compiled 28 total tackles and intercepted passes against Connecticut and Rutgers.
Even with an impressive start as a rookie, Burgess still had much to work on prior to this season. With the departure of former starting outside linebacker Daniel Brown, it was inevitable that Burgess would be called upon to play a larger role this season, both in leadership and in playing time.
"(Being a leader) was a big focus this offseason. (The coaches) were telling me to focus more on being a leader, being more under control, fundamentally sound, and just know your help and the defense so (I) can make more plays."
The hard work and focus has ultimately resulted in a personal confidence and comfortability level that Burgess describes as "way higher."
It may be surprising that Burgess' confidence would ever be in need of a boost to begin with, as football is something that runs in his bloodlines. His father, James Burgess Sr., played at the University of Miami along U of L assistant coach Clint Hurtt before a four-year NFL career with the San Diego Chargers. Additionally, two of his uncles spent time in the NFL, one with the Denver Broncos and the other with the Miami Dolphins.
Burgess comes from the same area as many of the players on the Louisville football roster, a place that has proven to be a goldmine for Charlie Strong and staff. He played his high school football at Homestead High School in Homestead, Fla. for coach Bobby McCray, where he was an All-American-linebacker. ESPN listed Burgess as a 4-star recruit coming out of high school.
On Sunday's opener, Burgess impressed spectators with his high-energy, aggressive play. His several big hits and constant presence around the ball helped the Cards halt Ohio's much-hyped running game.
"I tell our linebackers all the time that they should be the leaders of the defense, they should lead us in tackles at all times," Charlie Strong said.
If his team-leading amount of stops on Sunday is any indication, that won't be any problem for James Burgess this season.