LINCOLN — It was one day before the February signing period opened in 2011 when Sam Burtch heard from Nebraska's football program for the first time.
He'd been wavering between a couple of track scholarship offers — NU included. He was considering a two-sport opportunity at Northwest Missouri State, too. He knew he had to decide soon, but he didn't know which option he preferred.
But then came the phone call with Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Jamrog, who helps oversee Nebraska's walk-on program.
The Huskers wanted Burtch.
“That was a good moment of my life,” Burtch said. “Finally a dream come true.”
The Elmwood-Murdock product is taking full advantage of it now, contributing as a key member of the Huskers' receiving corps. With injuries limiting Jamal Turner and Jordan Westerkamp, Burtch emerged as the team's No. 3 option at receiver against Michigan State on Saturday. He caught five passes for 89 yards, both career highs.
His first reception fired up the offense in the first quarter, when he hauled in a short throw, broke two tackles and nearly ran through another defender for a 26-yard gain. Burtch was wide open for a 32-yard touchdown two snaps after that.
He also had a third-down catch for 14 yards to keep a third-quarter drive alive. Junior Kenny Bell made it 27-21 with a touchdown grab three plays later.
Burtch shrugs his shoulders when asked if he expected all of that production. He knows how hard he's worked. The results seem reasonable to him.
“I feel like I've been productive in practice, so it's not a surprise that I automatically just catch some balls in a game,” he said. “I just focus on what needs to be done.”
It's always been his approach.
He was 170 pounds when he joined the program, and he spent his first season on the scout team trying — often unsuccessfully — to hold his ground against the first-team defensive backs.
Burtch, listed at 6-foot-3, is weighing in at 195 pounds now, and that work in the weight room has bolstered his confidence.
“He's a great blocker, a good route-runner, he catches the ball well,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said after the MSU game. “I like the way he plays.”
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Teammates appreciate Burtch's style, too. They've been complimenting Burtch on how he plays since the offseason.
That's one of the reasons Elmwood-Murdock coach Leigh Schmale thought Burtch would fit in at Nebraska. “He had all the intangibles in terms of desire, effort and determination,” Schmale said.
Schmale was the one who sent game film of Burtch to Jamrog a couple of weeks before signing day. Burtch hadn't attended the most recent NU summer camp and hadn't been on the Huskers' radar.
Burtch smiles and says he's technically never been recruited by Nebraska. “Because they never called me,” he said of the initial contact. “I called them.”
Regardless, Burtch is glad to be enjoying his increased role with the team he's always wanted to play for. He knew the moment he got a return call that he wasn't going to waste it.
“I just prepared myself, and the opportunity came. So I just seized the moment,” Burtch said.
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after practice Thursday