This has not been the season that Ohio State sophomore cornerback Denzel Burke expected for himself, but it’s getting there.
Burke’s September featured some incredible catches by receivers he was covering, as well as a couple of pass interference calls. Things weren’t going as well as expected, and then he capped it all by injuring his hand prior to the final game of the month and had to watch from the sidelines.
After starting as a true freshman all season long last year, Burke was expected to be the next in OSU’s long line of lockdown corners. He still has designs on being that guy, and he showed more and more of his skill set over the four games in October.
“Yeah, obviously the start of the season wasn’t what I expected or what I wanted either, but I’m not really worried about the past,” Burke said on Wednesday. “I’m really just worried about going forward, stacking games and just winning games. Game by game, and just doing what I can to the best of my ability for this team.”
There are few more difficult jobs in sports than being a cornerback. For one, defending wide receivers in one-on-one situations is a task for rare people. For two, everybody sees when a cornerback screws up. There is no hiding.
“That mentality on the island, man, mistakes aren’t forgiven out there,” Burke said. “So you’ve really got to be honed in on your technique and your eyes and everything that you see because it’s unforgiving out there. You’ve just got to really be on your P’s and Q’s.”
Burke’s season was disrupted before it even started. He suffered a shoulder injury in the offseason which then impacted his practice availability in fall camp.
While other players were able to hit the season running, he was still trying to get up to speed, which impacted the start of his season.
“Yeah, no doubt,” he admitted. “Because the way you practice is the way you’re gonna play on Saturdays too. I didn’t have the most reps. I think I had one of the least amount of reps out of the whole corner room throughout fall camp and the offseason. So yeah, being able to be out here fully healthy, I’m happy.”
And then just as he was getting back to normal, he suffered a hand injury in practice, requiring him to wear a club on his hand.
“What happened is I hit the ball out, next thing you know my whole joint came off the bone,” he said. “So it split in half. Still recovering. But I’m good.”
That injury happened on a Wednesday. By Saturday he was trying to suit up to take on a very physical Wisconsin offense.
“I love this team. They depend on me,” he said. “They trust me. So I went out there and tried to do the best of my best of my ability to go out there and play with the club on, I just couldn’t do it.”
The pain was too much, but it has since subsided. The early-season struggles have subsided as well. Looking back, Denzel Burke acknowledges that it was good for him to go through those struggles and see the game from a different perspective.
It also reinforced the importance of fighting through and trusting himself and those around him. He was never that far off, so there was never any reason to doubt what he was doing, regardless of how much people on the outside were talking about his downfall.
“I mean, honestly, just keeping my head down and just keep working and applying the technique,” he said of how he improved his play over the last month.
“I believe in myself. I believe in my technique. And I play for an audience of one. So, yeah, no offense. I don’t listen to what you all have to say or the media or anything like that. I’ve just got to keep going and play the game I play.”
Struggles are going to occur for a cornerback, and they get blown up because everybody sees them.
But it never stopped Burke from believing in himself.
“Not at all,” he said. “And again, I play for an audience one and I have a strong mindset. I know what I can do, and I know what I can do for this team.”