Brigham Young nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna started his first college game in 2007. That was Ross Burbank’s freshman year at Virginia Beach’s Cox High School.
Saturday afternoon, the Manumaleuna-Burbank wrestling match figures to play a pivotal role as Virginia opens its season against BYU.
The game will mark the first collegiate start for Burbank, who earned the center’s job during spirited training camp competition with redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo.
“That battle had a lot of ups and downs for everyone that was involved,” said senior Luke Bowanko, the Cavaliers’ starting right guard in 2011, center in 2012 and left guard this season. “It wasn’t a smooth path for Ross throughout camp. There were some practices where you thought Coach was going to rip his head off. … The most impressive thing about Ross is the way he handled it.”
Burbank’s acceptance of offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim’s animated critiques are part of what head coach Mike London called a maturation.
“I think there's a maturity level that he's experienced,” London said Monday at his weekly news conference, “and he just kind of emerged as a guy that has proven that he can make … the line calls and protection calls. So his knowledge of the game has increased, as well.
“But Ross has been a very pleasant surprise for us, in that his development has put him in a position to be a starting center.”
A 6-foot-4, 290-pound redshirt sophomore, Burbank faces a unique opening test.
Not because Manumaleuna is 6-2, 305 pounds. Large as that is, it’s not extraordinary for a nose guard. But like many of his teammates, Manumaleuna is older, the product of not only a two-year Mormon mission but also a medical redshirt season.
After starting every game of his freshman season at BYU in 2007, Manumaleuna spent two years in Oklahoma spreading his church’s word. He returned to football in 2010 and started every game as a defensive end in 2011 before a knee injury spoiled what would have been his senior season last year.
Meanwhile, Burbank labored in 2012 as a reserve guard and center. He remained a backup on the depth chart, at center, after spring practices that were trying for much of the offensive line.
“He had a right to be upset with us, the way we played in the spring game,” Burbank said of Wachenheim.
Matteo was ahead of Burbank on the depth chart until sustaining an upper-body injury that has curtailed him in practice.
Centers choreograph a great deal of line play, and Bowanko said Burbank has been a quick study.
“I’ve let Ross make the calls,” Bowanko added. “You have to let someone grow into that position. I think what I offer is the confidence .. to know that if by chance he does make the wrong call, that I’ll be there to fix it. … Ninety-nine percent of the time, he’s been right. … He’s a smart kid, so he’ll be all right.”
With Manumaleuna lining up directly over the center in BYU’s 3-4 alignment, Burbank would be wise to employ some wrestling techniques, at least those that don’t get him flagged. Burbank was the state high school heavyweight champion as a junior at Cox, and had London not offered him a scholarship, he was prepared to wrestle at Virginia.
“A lot of (people) don’t give the heavyweight class much credit,” Burbank said, “but I really took pride in it. … Leverage is a really, really big thing when you have a guy head up on you firing off the ball and trying to take you head off. It’s really controlling that initial burst off the ball.”
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