Chronicle: Fast and tough Braxton Burmeister comes home against QB Aztecs
The unwritten rules for a college football quarterback start with avoiding as much contact as possible. Linebacker at the bee line? Hit the grass. Security intact and flash? Race away.
Rule #2? See rule #1.
Standing with limbs tied and bones in factory showroom condition keeps offensive triggers on the ground. So why is San Diego State transfer Braxton Burmeister continually running into trouble?
“Anytime football is over, my goal is to fight in the UFC,” offered Burmeister, a senior who played at La Jolla Country Day, as a glimpse of his unique wiring. “I’ve been training and doing MMA since I was a little kid. My mom (Angela) put me in. She’s been kickboxing since I was in third or fourth grade.
“I used to go look, then I started doing it.”
As other quarterbacks chase escape routes away from contact, Burmeister hatches a long-term plan to make as much experience as possible. Taking the hits and getting up has become a bit of his specialty.
Burmeister is the kid from his hometown who took the long, long, long way home. He started at Oregon, moving to Virginia Tech after coach Willie Taggart left for Florida State and new head coach Mario Cristobal adopted an offense aimed at pocket passers.
When coach Justin Fuente found the ax in Blacksburg, Va., player defections followed.
“It was really a complete rebuild,” Burmeister said. “For my last year, I wanted to have the opportunity to win. With new coaches and a completely different team, it almost felt like a new program.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound eldest found himself on the move again.
Although he said Missouri, Cal and “some ACC schools” had become options, Burmeister felt he had been away from home long enough. There was little need to convince the Aztecs of his adaptability or tenacity. He’s proven it on two Power 5 campuses.
Burmeister started his first game at Oregon as a true freshman after current NFL QB Justin Herbert of the Chargers and a backup were injured. In the first half of his first start, he also got injured.
“We were playing in Washington State,” Burmeister said. “I took a hit on the sideline and my arm started going numb. I didn’t know (if it was serious), because once in the game there’s so much adrenaline It wasn’t until half-time that I started to feel.
“Obviously the AC quarterback sprains aren’t good.”
An AC sprain affects the area where the shoulder blade and collarbone connect. The joint has an impact on the control, movement and strength of the shoulder. Burmeister struggled to raise his arm above his head. Throwing the ball down tested pain thresholds.
And Burmeister suffered in relative silence.
“When he was at Oregon, I’m still a little frustrated about it,” said former Oregon star Akili Smith, who played at Lincoln High School and has worked with Burmeister since he was in seventh year. “The (sprain) has not been revealed. Fans started throwing him under the bus because they didn’t know the truth.
“People were always asking why they weren’t pushing the ball down the field. It was all in-between stuff, bubble screens, boundary throws, throwing the ball into the flats. There was a reason. He was injured.
“For me, it showed his courage and his tenacity to come out and play through this.”
The situation measured Burmeister’s mental determination.
“It was tough, especially at 18, a real freshman starting out in the Pac-12,” he said. “It became a big learning experience for me to block out the noise and not worry about that extra stuff. People didn’t know that, but I understood that you don’t want fenders opponents know it.
“So I did what I could do.”
One of the main reasons Burmeister kept playing, besides the injuries ahead of him, was his elite speed. His legs gave the Ducks the best chance of winning, even with a bum wing.
This running ability offers a potential game-changer for the Aztecs.
“I don’t think San Diego State has ever had a runner like that (at quarterback),” Smith said. “What he can do in space is very dynamic. He might be one of the quickest players on the team. there is no doubt. He’s a double threat, all day.
Any doubt about its wheels was cleared at Virginia Tech, where they used GPS tracking technology to measure speed during off-season training. The fastest player on the team was not a kick returner, wide receiver, defensive back, or running back.
It was Burmeister, whose top speed was 22.53 mph.
The NFL’s top speed in 2021, according to Next Gen Stats, was a Week 15 burst by the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, which hit 22.13 mph. Although this was measured in-game, in pads, the comparison is still impressive.
“I’ve only been around one other player who’s really fast like that,” said Aztecs offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Hecklinski. “And that was (former NFL player) Denard Robinson when we were (coaching) at Michigan.
“When he decides to go, he can go from zero to 60 in a fraction of a second. There’s no buildup at that speed, so they’re breaking angles (from the tacklers).
Burmeister relied on that singular acceleration for a late touchdown a season ago that gave Virginia Tech a late lead in a near upset of eventual Fiesta Bowl participant Notre Dame.
Although players aren’t timed the same at San Diego State, Hecklinski and others believe Burmeister is in the conversation for the fastest Aztec, along with running back Jordan Byrd, the transfer of the USC Kenan Christon and maybe a few others.
“I don’t necessarily know how fast he is, as far as ‘timed’ speed goes,” Hecklinski said. “I know he’s fast.”
The combination of speed and fearlessness to run the ball started in high school, where he started out as a proper freshman at Country Day.
Coach Tyler Hales said Burmeister missed three games, other than blowouts, in his four seasons that spanned more than 50 games. He missed a practice because the coaches forced him to sit down.
“Our first game of his senior year, he grabbed a helmet on his elbow and couldn’t move his arm,” Hales said. “Brax came right back and played through. I also don’t think he ever slipped or ran out of bounds in those four years.
Not literally, right?
“He literally never did,” Hales said. “It’s 100% fact. There was no sideline he found on his own. You had to tackle him for him to go down. When I saw him slip once when he was in oregon i yelled at my wife i couldn’t believe it.
Measuring Burmeister’s courage has become a thing at every stop.
During a drill at Virginia Tech, a 6-foot-9, 350-pound lineman stepped back on Burmeister’s left foot, breaking four toes.
“He’s a big boy. I didn’t feel well,” Burmeister said. “I trained the next day. Rather, it was the doctors who wouldn’t let me play the games. But I was training. I was trying to show the coaches that I was okay.
In the game against Notre Dame, Burmeister said he suffered the toughest blow of his life as a quarterback. Safety Kyle Hamilton, current member of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, broke free in the middle on a third down.
“I saw a few stars,” Burmeister said, before adding his most telling memory of the jarring moment. “Luckily I got the ball out and finished. We had the first try.
In his mind, the bruises form armor.
Burmeister trains with former MAA fighter Shannon Gugerty at Rise Above Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego. Hecklinski, asked if he knew about his quarterback’s post-football goal, smiled.
“No surprise at all,” he said. “Whatever he chooses to do, he will be very successful. Don’t be shocked if in three or four years he is in MMA title fights.
He still has a few football fights first.