Big 12 Campus Correspondent
University of Colorado defensive standout Benjamin Burney is entering his senior season, and couldn't be happier about finally being able to compete with a clean bill of health after spending last season on "injured reserve."
Burney started all 13 games in 2007 as the Buffaloes closed out the season in the Independence Bowl. Playing that much took a toll on the 5-11, 195-pound cornerback's body. As the season progressed, Burney would have trouble getting out of the bathtub and out of bed. The everyday activities that are taken for granted became challenges.
After playing through the injuries, Burney took a redshirt season in 2008 as he underwent five surgeries -on both shoulders, both wrists and a knee. He needed most of the year off just to recover and rehab.
"I really wanted to be healthy," he said. "It was difficult playing with all of those injuries and not being able to actually live properly, without even playing football just being able to live my natural life."
Burney was one of just eight Colorado players to play in every game in 2007. He sat out just 34 defensive snaps and was on the field for 796 plays. Considering that he was playing with bad wrists, bad shoulders and a balky knee, his endurance was remarkable.
"I just focused on the fact that I was starting, so I was going to play regardless," Burney said. "It didn't matter what I had to do to get out on that football field. I had to cold tub a lot, I had to ice a bunch, I didn't get to sleep much in the hotel (road games) because I had to ice several times a night and just doing all that I could so that my joints would function properly the next morning.
"Really when it came down to it, when I was not playing football and I was still suffering football pain, that's when I knew that I needed to have surgery after the season. I went and talked to (Colorado coach Dan Hawkins) and the team doctors about it and they said they'd give me a redshirt so that I could have the surgeries - which worked out great because I didn't redshirt my freshman year."
While the physical consequences to having five surgeries in a 10 month period are obvious, the mental aspect cannot be overlooked either. It takes an incredible amount of mental toughness not only to get through the five surgeries and the necessary rehab, but staying positive throughout the whole process can be difficult.
"It kept me away from my family - that being the team - so I felt like an outsider and maybe even a little mutinous at times," Burney said. "It was harder mentally than it was physically because physically you have to wait a little while and be patient while everything gets back to normal and focus on the big picture.
"I really took Coach Hawk's visualization to heart because they said in therapy that your nervous system will actually think that you're doing these things that you're visualizing because your nerves don't really know the difference when you really get into the visualization. So I'd visualize a lot about coming out here and doing what I'm doing now. The physical limitations were easier to deal with because I knew that my body would get beat up and that I'd get skinny and small, but I was excited about when I could come back and lift and now I really relish when I get to come back and do all of these things."
Burney lost about 20 pounds of muscle during his redshirt season. He didn't fully regain that weight until a few months ago when he was able to fully commit to the offseason workout program.
"I really felt like a fiend for a little while," Burney said. "I would have a surgery, then I'd have another one and another so I didn't really have a chance to be able to rebuild my body or anything like that. I had to make sure that they were being taken care of properly because I couldn't really be standing out here in the elements with the stitches and stuff."
While all players need their bodies to be as close to 100 percent as possible, Burney the self-appointed 'Last Super Saiyan' needs to be in near perfect shape to perform with the aggressive and hard hitting style that he has become known for. The nickname came from the anime series Dragon Ball Z, where a Saiyan is an aggressive extraterrestrial being that is the strongest warrior in the show.
During his downtime last year, Burney wrote a book that was published and is available on Amazon.com and LuLu.com, but due to NCAA regulations the name of his book cannot be revealed. The motivation for writing the book was the desire to give him something productive to do with his time and a much needed outlet for his emotions.
"Really the motivation was free time," Burney said. "I knew a person like me having too much free time I might get into trouble. So I decided I better just stay in the house and do something constructive. The book really came about with some free time and some venting."
In 2007, Burney started at cornerback opposite two-time first team All-Big 12 cornerback and current New England Patriot Terrence Wheatley. Burney had 55 tackles and eight pass deflections. He plans to return to his aggressive style of play in 2009.
"I really want us to be an aggressive unit both offensively and defensively," said Burney, who had an interception in Colorado's season opener. "We definitely have the skill and the talent to do that, and we definitely have it in us to do that. I see it within us - within all of us - and we just have to believe it. Some of our younger guys need to believe they are who we know they are. Once that happens we're going to be playing hard, playing like we're brothers and whatever stands against us is not going to prosper.
"My goal is just to be out here and be with my brothers, be happy and be smiling. I really don't care about playing time as much, I don't care about individual goals or achievements, I really just care about what the team can do and being happy while we do it."