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Bobby Burger: Burger leaves starting spot at Dayton for ND

Chris Masoud | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dayton scout team defensive player of the year as a redshirt freshman in 2006, a team-high eight sacks the following year, and a Division I FCS Mid Major National Football Championship in 2007 — that would be at the top of senior Bobby Burger’s college football resume.

So why drop a starting spot at a respected collegiate program and transfer to Notre Dame?

“It’s been a lifelong dream ever since I was a little kid,” Burger said. “When I was at Dayton, I gave everything I had to the Dayton Flyers. But my grades were finally good enough, and academically I transferred and was accepted. It’s been a dream come true.”

Burger’s dream developed at a young age, when he came to South Bend to watch football games with his father Bob Burger, an offensive guard for the Irish from 1977-80. While his father played on the national championship team of 1977, Burger has never been pressured to follow in his footsteps.

“He really doesn’t say anything,” Burger said. “He’s been so supportive of me throughout the whole entire walk-on process, earning a scholarship, playing — he’s just been very supportive.”

Burger’s transfer from Dayton stemmed from putting in the work in the classroom. But once accepted at Notre Dame, Burger knew he could earn a spot on the team as a walk-on. After a demanding workout process, Burger and his fellow walk-ons forged a relationship known as the WOPU — the Walk-On Players Union.

“We joined the team, and we had three days a week, while we’re having practice, of 5:30 a.m. workouts. Just a half-an-hour, nonstop, no-water, throw up a couple times, that’s okay workouts. At practice, instead of practicing, we did conditioning drills because we ‘weren’t ready to play yet.'”

After emerging as a member of the team, Burger focused his attentions on showcasing his skills that brought a national title to Dayton — on the other side of the ball. The coaching staff converted Burger from a defensive end into a fullback and a tight end. Burger excelled in his new position on the scout team, earning a scholarship before the start of the regular season.

“I’m proud of that fact, the whole year — earning your respect as a football player, and I think I did that through scout team. I won scout team player of the week several times, and it was just a matter of getting my respect that first year.”

While Burger’s role changed from starter to scout team player, the senior has embraced his role as working to improve the starters on the defense while ensuring that the practice offense mimics the style of each week’s opposition.

“To see the [opposing] offense run the same plays you ran during the week and seeing the defense stop them — that’s definitely satisfying knowing that you helped the defense by doing your part,” he said.

In addition to his scout team role, Burger made 183 appearances on special teams for the Irish in 2009, including his first play in Notre Dame Stadium. Burger started on kickoff return for the first game of the 2009 season against Nevada.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Okay, this is the first time I ever ran out of the tunnel, first time I ever put pads on, game jersey on. Just let this one be kickoff so I can kind of get the flow of the game down.'”

But after winning the toss, Nevada deferred the return.

“I get down in my stance, and it’s kickoff return,” Burger said. “All of a sudden, I’ll never forget, I started smiling and I told myself, ‘Let’s just do this. This is awesome. This is cool. This is what you worked so hard for.'”

Burger’s biggest play for the Irish came later in the season in a 24-21 victory against Purdue on Sept. 26. Burger caught a pass and broke a tackle for a nine-yard gain, good enough for an Irish first down on a critical third-and-long situation in the third quarter.

While the senior has relished his moments as a member of the football program, he said he has been especially grateful for his experiences with professors and friends off the field. For Burger, just attending Notre Dame is a dream fulfilled.

“While Dayton was just a wonderful experience, there’s only one Notre Dame,” Burger said. “When you’re young, running around South Quad throwing a football, looking up at the Stadium and seeing all those guys run out there. Sometimes if you put your mind to a goal, even your wildest dreams can come true if you really work hard at it.”