A selfless and exceptionally generous act helped make Ryan Burke a major newsmaker for the Montana football team this past winter.
The sophomore wide receiver from Billings donated bone marrow in late December in Denver, enduring a painful process. He garnered a good share of positive press for the gesture and now he’s working to get noticed on the field in spring drills.
So far, so good. Burke has racked up some impressive catches inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, making a strong case for playing time at a spot where Montana is brimming with talent and experience.
A member of the UM Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Burke talked with the Missoulian Friday about life on and off the field the past few months.
Q. How much does it take out of a guy donating bone marrow?
A. It’s just such a different process your body has never been through, so it’s hard to recover. It was a good month, month and a half until I was really feeling 100 percent. But I’ve been feeling great the last month or so and actually got news of the patient and they’re out of the hospital and doing pretty well. That’s the best news of the whole thing.
Q. Was there anything that happened the past few months that put into perspective what you did?
A. It definitely puts your priorities in line. You’re sitting there doing an operation for someone you don’t know. But there’s someone sitting next to you who’s going through chemo, and family members here and there that have gone through that. It definitely is rewarding and I feel lucky to be able to do it. But you just hope it works. It’s not about me, it’s about the success of the operation.
Q. What’s your take on Griz spring drills so far?
A. So far it’s been good. We’ve got a couple guys banged up at every position so I think as a team we’re just trying to get through, get healthy and after spring break kind of hit it really hard those last two weeks.
Q. With some of the injuries and illnesses at wideout, you’ve been getting a lot of reps. How valuable is that opportunity?
A. You feel bad when guys get hurt but someone’s got to step up and it’s been nice. Coach has been good and supportive. I’m kind of learning a new position with the slots a little bit, but it’s been good.
Q. How much of a commitment is the SAAC?
A. Shay (Smithwick-Hann) and I are part of that. We meet about once every other week, or once a week, and go over volunteer activities. Most of it involves community service and getting out in the community and it’s actually pretty fun.
Q. Who throws the hardest pass on the team?
A. Definitely Brady (Gustafson). But it’s definitely a good ball. I’ve been watching him. We grew up in the same town. Sometimes it hurts a little but he gets it in there on time for sure.
Q. What’s something we don’t realize about playing WR for the Griz?
A. Well I played quarterback in high school and never really thought I’d have to block as much as I do as a receiver. I usually like other people blocking for me. Now you really realize how crucial the wideout blocks are. It’s definitely something I had to get used to. I enjoy it and hopefully I’m starting to get a little better at it.
Q. Are you doing any long-snapping for the Griz this spring?
A. Yes. I’m still snapping, short and long. It’s just something I’ve always been able to do and I think it’s really fun. No way am I saying I’m going to make it to the (NFL) doing it, but it’s cool seeing guys like (Jordan) Tripp having that in their pocket so if they’re not a position guy they always have that as a tool. I’m going with the 2s and the 1s right now, kind of back and forth with Aaron Held. It’s a fun little competition.
Q. Is there an art to long-snapping?
A. I’ve always said I can do it because I played quarterback. I know how to throw and get that spin going. I actually learned it in a Colorado State camp when (UM head) Coach (Mick) Delaney was at Colorado State. I never thought I’d be back with him snapping. First snap I ever had in a game was against App State and those guys were huge. That was my first college play. I never thought I’d be in the interior offensive line doing that, but it’s definitely been good.
Q. Being a fan of Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, which one would you say is the better singer?
A. Ah, old Miley I would have said. But she’s taken a turn. I gotta go with Katy Perry. Her new stuff is really good and she’s pretty attractive so you can’t go wrong with that. But old Miley was pretty hard to beat.