Former University of Wisconsin safety Eric Burrell is no stranger to taking the path less traveled when it comes to football, from the college he chose to attend to the team he chose to root for growing up.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Severn, Md., native and McDonogh graduate has been a bit of a contrarian, but he’s fought for everything he has gotten heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I’m a competitor,” Burrell said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 2. “That’s one thing I can say I live for.”
In fact, one of the big reasons Burrell chose to attend the Wisconsin was to play against his high school teammates and opponents who decided to play at Maryland, a fellow Big Ten school.
“Most of my guys — my friends growing up with and playing against — went to play at Maryland,” Burrell said. “So I was like, ‘You know what, I want to play against Maryland and play against all my friends.'”
After redshirting in 2016, Burrell played in 41 games and started 19 for the Badgers from 2017-2020. He racked up 103 tackles, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and two sacks during his career in Madison, Wis.
Burrell was dubbed the name “Master EB” for the hard work he put in off the field at Wisconsin as well. He earned a bachelor’s degree in personal finance along with a master’s degree in educational leadership policy and analysis.
Burrell said he learned a lot about developing the proper work ethic while playing under former Baltimore Ravens safety and current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
“Whenever people ask me one word to describe [Leonhard],” Burrell said, “I say he’s a genius.”
“[Leonhard] knows how to be a kid off the field with jokes and all that stuff in group chats,” Burrell added. “But he also knows how to turn it on when we get on the field.”
Even though Burrell grew up near Baltimore and went on to work with a former Raven at Wisconsin, Burrell had an unpopular allegiance to a professional team when he was younger.
“I don’t know if I should say this. I was actually a Steelers fan,” said Burrell, who said he had fun talking smack with his friends in school. “I was a big Troy Polamalu fan and … I grew up with my cousins’ grandparents and they were big Steelers fan, so that’s where it started.”
During his four years at McDonogh, Burrell was a three-time first-team All-Metro pick by The Baltimore Sun. A defensive back and wide receiver for the Eagles, Burrell finished his high school career with 172 tackles, seven interceptions and 12 touchdowns.
Despite his Steelers fandom, Burrell has deep ties for the place he calls home. Burrell says he still talks a lot with those who supported him during his formative years.
“Most of my family lives within an hour radius of Baltimore,” Burrell explained. “I think that’s one thing that a lot of people take for granted.”
Two of the people Burrell said he has relied on the most to help prepare him for taking the next step are former McDonogh teammate and current Chicago Bears linebacker Josh Woods and former McDonogh head coach Dom Damico.
“That guy there, nobody thought he would be in the situation he is now,” Burrell said of Woods, mostly a special-teams contributor with the Bears. “He always just said be open-minded and always be willing to learn the game and that was the guy I really leaned on throughout this process.”
During the 2013 season — Woods’ senior year and Burrell’s sophomore year — Damico led McDonogh to an 11-0 season. The Eagles defeated Gilman, 37-6, in the MIAA A Conference title game. Burrell says Damico has become a good friend and is someone he can always reach out to for help.
Damico will “always have a good place in my heart,” Burrell said.
Burrell is currently training in Florida for the 2021 NFL Draft, which will kick off April 29. With the Ravens perhaps in need of some safety depth, could Burrell be a late-round option for the Ravens?
When talking about the possibility of coming back home to play professionally, Burrell seemed excited for the possibility despite being a Steelers fan growing up.
“If the Ravens draft me I’ll be more than happy to be a Raven. It’s crazy,” Burrell said. “I like to always stay 10 toes down regardless of the situation. All I need is a shot … and whenever that opportunity comes I’ll take advantage of [it].”
For more from Burrell, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images