Aug. 4—Eric Burrell's road to training camp with the New Orleans Saints began on the playing fields in Frederick, where he was a youth football standout.
"Being outside, playing sports and stuff with friends" was how Burrell described his childhood growing up on Madison Street, not far from McCurdy Field.
"We would always find a field or play basketball behind South Frederick [Elementary School]," he continued in a recent phone interview.
By the summer of his fifth-grade year, Burrell was starting to see his potential in football after dominating the opposition as a running back and linebacker for the Giants, his youth football team.
He moved to Baltimore to live with his father, Scott, who had just finished a prison term for dealing drugs and had taken an active interest in his son's blossoming athletic career.
Before long, private schools were buzzing around Eric Burrell, hoping he'd suit up for their football team. He went to McDonogh, where he became a four-star college prospect and a consensus All-State selection as a defensive back.
After parsing through 25 scholarship offers, he made two official college visits, including one to Wisconsin, where he fell in love with the campus and football operation. He graduated in December 2019 with a bachelor's degree in finance after making 26 starts at strong safety for the Badgers and compiling 126 tackles and five interceptions.
The following year, he earned his master's in educational leadership.
Now, the 6-foot, 195-pound Burrell is toiling away in the Louisiana heat and humidity, trying to earn a roster spot with the Saints after signing with them as an undrafted free agent on May 2.
He was cut on May 15 after failing a physical only to be resigned three days later.
"I am just glad I made it in this situation," said Burrell, who tore the labrum in both of his shoulders while playing football at Wisconsin. "It doesn't matter how you got there, just that you maintain there."
Prior to enrolling at McDonogh in Owings Mills, Burrell began to focus more on the defensive side of the ball. He had developed a thirst for hitting.
"It's a violent game, you know what I mean," he said. "If you can prove yourself [playing football], you can prove yourself anywhere."
True to his competitive nature, Burrell was interested in playing for a Big 10 school in college because he wanted to play against Maryland, a school that had paid him little attention during recruiting and where many of his friends were committing to play.
"Maryland didn't offer me [a scholarship]," he said. "I had an offer from every other school in the Big 10. I was like, 'I am from Maryland.' That doesn't make any sense. That fueled me a little bit more."
He made his one other official visit to Nebraska before settling on Wisconsin.
During the 2019 season, he made a career-high 11 tackles at Ohio State and then registered three tackles, including a sack, in the Rose Bowl against Oregon on Jan. 1, 2020.
His senior season was cut short by the pandemic. He made 23 tackles, including two for a loss, and one interception and a pass defended over seven games.
He said his paltry numbers as a senior, as well as his injury history, played into him not getting drafted in April.
Instead of retaining another year of eligibility, which he was entitled to as a result of the pandemic, he felt it was time to turn pro.
"I already had enough film after starting for three and a half years," Burrell said. "If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. I said, 'You know what, I am going to bet on myself and figure it out from there.'"
In New Orleans, Burrell is playing for a roster spot in a crowded defensive backfield that includes All-Pro safety Malcolm Jenkins.
"I think I have a great opportunity. I am very confident with the situation I am in," Burrell said. "The preseason is going to be a big factor for someone like me. Special teams can be a big thing, too, and I am already used to doing that."
Regardless of how his football career plays out, Burrell has a soft spot in his heart for where it started.
"It was a special place for me. I am not going to lie," he said of Frederick. "I met so many friends there that I still keep in touch with nowadays. A lot of people usually don't come out of a small town. So, this is a huge accomplishment for me."
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