Farmington Hills Harrison head coach John Herrington has as much experience coaching Division I wide receivers as any high school coach in the state. When he compliments recent Michigan State commitment Aaron Burbridge, he is speaking from a vast frame of reference. Burbridge also plays safety and cornerback for Harrison.
"He (Burbridge) is the fastest one that we've had," Herrington said of Burbridge, who committed to Michigan State on Thursday. "He has been electronically timed at 4.37 on the SPARQ timer. Even if not was not correct, he was in the 4.4 range, which is awesome. That's as fast as we've ever had."
That's including a tradition of producing wide receivers such as Ohio State's Ricky Bryant, and Michigan State's Mark Dell, Brian Smolinski, and Agim Shabaj.
Shabaj's 57 receptions as a sophomore at Michigan State in 2003 is the 10th-highest single-season total in Spartan history.
"Agim had the great moves, of course," Herrington said. "But (Burbridge) is the fastest receiver we've had. I think he still has a lot of potential. He is still learning to run really good routes, and he can out-jump people for the ball. Just a great player."
Burbridge had 34 catches last year as a junior for Harrison's Division 2 state championship team, good for 663 yards and 5 TDs, despite missing three games.
Rivals.com lists Burbridge as a four-star recruit, a national Top 250 player, ranked No. 2 in Michigan.
Burbridge took an unofficial visit to Michigan State on Wednesday, and committed to the Spartans on Thursday. Spartan running backs coach Brad Salem served as MSU's primary recruiter for Burbridge.
"He called me this morning, when I was down at Henry Ford Museum, doing my history work and he called me and said he had committed, so I'm happy for him," Herrington said. "He didn't really mention anything in particular (about being close to committing). He is a pretty quiet, humble kid. I'm just glad that he called me; he usually doesn't say much.
"He had told me before that until he qualified, he probably wouldn't do anything (about a commitment). But I guess he went up there and he has always liked Michigan State, and he liked Michigan too, but he decided Michigan State.
"I think Mark Dell being there probably had something to do with it; same type of ball player and so on."
Dell was honorable mention All-Big Ten last year and finished his career No. 7 on Michigan State's all-time receptions list with 133. Dell was a four-star wide receiver at Harrison in 2006, a member of Mark Dantonio's first recruiting class.
"He makes so many big plays, just like Mark Dell did for us," Herrington said.
Burbridge will be playing his third year on varsity this fall.
When did Herrington realize that Burbridge would be a Division I player?
"When he played JV as a freshman, I knew right away," Herrington said. "No question about it.
"I talked to Brad Salem a little bit about Aaron. He has great speed and so on. Everybody has pretty much liked him since he was a sophomore. He's an explosive play-maker. He (Aaron) is just a tremendous football player."
Turning It Up, On The Big Stage
Burbridge staked his claim for national Top 250 status with his performance int he Division 2 state championship last November, a 38-28 victory over Lowell in a clash of two of Michigan's top prep powerhouses.
Burbridge, listed at 6-1, 182 by Herrington, had 8 catches for 123 yards in the state title game, including TD grabs of 26 and 10 yards.
"I thought he took it up a little bit (in that game)," Herrington said. "There are some games when we have such good receivers that if he was doubled he wouldn't get that many balls thrown to him. But when we needed him, he was there."
Burbridge's first TD came on a smooth, deep post pattern on the game's opening drive. Earlier in the drive, he showed uncommon hands by reacting quickly to a ball thrown low, making an athletic, skillful play to salvage yardage.
"It wasn't a big gain, but it was on his shoe tops, and he didn't dive to catch it, he just went down and caught the ball and turned upfield," Herrington said. "In the championship game, Lowell played him one-on-one so we just needed to get him the ball in space and we knew he would come up with big plays. He caught a touchdown pass against Lowell on the first series, but then we were struggling against Lowell, and he caught some great out passes. He and Tommy Vento, who will be at Michigan State also, really brought us back."
Vento, who played in the East-West All-Star Game in June in Mount Pleasant, will be a walk-on QB at MSU this fall.
Vento's brother, Jake, will move from receiver to QB this fall at Harrison.
"We will have a guy who can get Aaron the ball," Herrington said. "If not, we will get him back there in the Wildcat to, and get him the ball that way.
"Aaron runs the ball for us on occasion at tailback and as I remember he had a pretty good run in the state title game. There are a lot of ways, and now I'm just dreaming about them and in a couple of weeks we'll start using them."
Harrison's season will begin at 8 p.m. on Aug. 27 against Detroit Cass Tech at Eastern Michigan University's Rynearson Stadium as the feature game of Big Day Prep Showdown VII.
In addition to Burbridge, Harrison features University of Michigan commitments Devin Funcess and Mario Ojemudia, while Detroit Cass tech boasts Michigan cornerback commitment Terry Richardson. The game sets up some potentially interesting match-ups, if Cass Tech puts Richardson on Burbridge.
"Cass Tech, holy cow! That's a great way to start out, huh?" Herrington said. "I assume he (Burbridge) will be double-covered most of the time this year, starting with Cass Tech. Luckily we have other good receivers."
Burbridge has some work to do academically in order to be eligible to play as a freshman at Michigan State in 2012, Herrington said.
"Committing is not the big thing, it's getting his grades," Herrington said. "If he can get the grades, it would be awesome.
"He got two A's in summer school, so that'll help but he has a long way to go," Herrington said. "Hopefully he'll do it. I talked to Brad Salem and he said they've had other guys that were in the same position and were able to make it."
Are the summer school A's and indication that Burbridge is focused and motivated to continue improving his core GPA?
"Oh yeah, I would hope so," Herrington said. "But second trimester last year, he wasn't; so we'll see what he does now. He has three trimesters to get it.
"I think he can do it. He has one of my ex-players that is mentoring him, and he is doing an excellent job with him. But you can't afford to get C's; you have to get B's to get his up.
As good as Burbridge is, he is still a stock-on-the-rise prospect with plenty of room for improvement.
"He needs to work on sitting down on his routes a little bit, and a little bit better footwork on some of them, which he is starting to get," Herrington said. "He relies a lot on his physical skill and we are just going to get him running a few more comeback routes, because people are going to try not to let him beat 'em deep. So we can work on that."
The Rest Of It
"In the secondary, he does great things back there," Harrison said.
Burbridge secured victory over Brother Rice with a late interception which he returned for a touchdown.
"They had a couple minutes to come down and score and they got it to our 40-yard line and they still had time to go in, but he intercepted the ball and ran it back 60-some yards for a touchdown, and that was it," Herrington said. "He can play either side of the ball, plus he is a great kick returner."
Tommy Vento, Harrison's QB of last year, is enrolled at Michigan State for fall semester as a walk-on. He threw for 2,803 yards last year, good for 31 TDs and 56 percent accuracty. He represented the East in the Michigan East-West All-Star Game in June.
"He is one of the best quarterbacks we've ever had," said Herrington, who has had some great ones, including Drew Stanton and Mill Coleman. "He's really smart.
"It's tough for a walk-on, I realize that, but we're hoping for good things. And Joe Boisture left, so that'll be good."
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