With veteran cornerbacks Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown sidelined for the season opener at Minnesota on Sept. 2, Ohio State called upon true freshman Denzel Burke to get his first career start.
He played well, registering four tackles and a team-high three pass break ups for the Buckeyes. And while he was flagged for pass interference in the second quarter, leading directly to a Golden Gophers touchdown on the very next play, he still graded out as a champion.
“I was pretty nervous going into that game,” Burke said during his media availability on Wednesday evening. “I didn’t know what to expect. Just wanted to go out there and ball out, trust my technique, trust my coaches and the play calls they’re going to make. I feel like I had a solid game. I obviously could have done better in certain areas, but it felt great.”
Burke, a former four-star prospect from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro, was initially recruited to Ohio State as a wide receiver. He told the staff he wanted to play defense in college, though, having modeled his game after the likes of Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
“I’ve always loved corner,” Burke said. “Receiver was more of a fun thing for me, but defense is my thing. Just being able to be a dog and dominate the guy in front of you, there’s no greater feeling than being able to lock down a receiver and getting interceptions and pass break ups.”
Banks and Brown have since returned to action, yet Burke has started all three games and leads all cornerbacks on the roster with 215 defensive snaps played. He nearly recorded his first career interception against Tulsa, too, though it was subsequently overturned by video replay.
“I was hurt,” Burke said. “They said the receiver caught it, but I definitely had my hands on the ball. And then when I went to the ground, it was definitely in my possession. It just shows that I have to keep going hard and try to get the next one.”
Burke certainly doesn’t lack confidence, which is a good thing for a cornerback going up against wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave every day in practice. He also credits them for his continued development since he arrived on campus in January.
“Garrett and Chris, in my opinion, are the best wide receivers in the nation, and they’re going to get me better,” Burke said. “If I don’t line up against them, how am I going to get better?
“I guard the best players in the nation (in practice), so going against other teams, I really don’t worry too much. I just know what they’re going to give me are not what Chris and Garrett are going to give me, or the rest of the guys here.”
All that said, Burke remains humble despite the stellar start to his college career. He was asked what kind of goals he has for himself, but quickly noted he wants to win a national championship with his teammates first and foremost.
“It’s a blessing from God,” Burke said of starting as a true freshman. “It’s just a testament to the hard work I put in my whole life. I’ve worked my butt off, but I want to keep going harder because I still have a lot to prove.”
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