There’s a check-mark this week alongside an item in the notebook where Bryan Burnham does some of his football homework.
Goal-setting is not uncommon among those in same line of work as the third-year B.C. Lions receiver, but more times than not, he suggested, he’s come up short. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you set what would seem like impossible goals as a method to spur improvement.
But not only did he open the eyes of many in the CFL last week when his team began a two-game series against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that continues Friday, Burnham accomplished a goal he knew was eventually attainable.
Burnham’s nine-catch, 209-yard receiving game achieved a yardstick that made it clear his persistence to become an emerging elite three-down pass-catcher is starting to pay off.
“I always write down in my notebook how many yards and catches, and I always go a bit more than reality. You always set the bar high,” he said. “I went back and looked in my book and I actually met my goals. You can speak things into existence.”
The 26-year-old wasn’t into sharing his other proposed achievements, though he did laugh when it suggested one of them might be to take over briefly for Jon Jennings during a game. But dreaming big isn’t looking quite so far-fetched, and for a pending CFL free agent at the end of the season it couldn’t come at a better time.
Burnham’s numbers through 14 games should give CFL railbirds a bit of pause when considering whether a challenge is emerging as to which West Division team has the best one-two set of receivers.
Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker of Edmonton lead the way of course, with 1,609 and 1,464 receiving yards respectively. Manny Arceneaux of the Lions currently is fourth, with 1,170 yards, just behind Ottawa’s Chris Williams, who was lost this week for the season due to injury.
Burnham is just behind Arceneaux with 1,103 yards, a league-high 18.7 yards per catch and 13 grabs in excess of 30 yards, also a CFL standard this season. Bowman and Walker, however, have been targeted 290 times combined. Arceneaux and Burnham have had 204 balls thrown their way, and Burnham’s yardage totals are from just 59 receptions and 79 targets, which makes Lions fans drool at the possibilities.
Mind you, three years ago Burnham was hoping he’d just become a part of the Lions offence, and wondered further whether a ruptured spleen in 2014 would sidetrack his career altogether.
But a daily dose of reality from the player Burnham would ultimately replace, veteran Courtney Taylor, provided the necessary perspective to get him in a position to eventually succeed.
“Every time when I came in the morning and I had that sour look on my face (Taylor) would pull me aside and say ‘this is the rookie life; your time will come’,” Burnham said of his mentoring sessions with Taylor.
“I’d go to his house after practice. We’d watch practice film and he’d coach me up on the scout team. I don’t know how you learn except for finding a vet. Thank goodness he did.”
This year, ironically since Taylor was cut after a brief return to the Lions, Burnham has been on fire, taking suggestions from receivers coach Marcel Bellefeuille to utilize his speed more aggressively when running routes.
The result last week was the best game by a Lions receiver since Geroy Simon pulled off a 211-yard game to close out the 2007 regular season and win the yardage title. Arceneaux’s 10 catches, from 14 targets, for 150 yards against Winnipeg became a footnote.
“Every player, if they’re around long enough, figures it out where they mature and get comfortable with everything around them. Bryan’s at that spot where he’s starting to figure it out,” said Simon, the Lions’ director of CIS scouting.
“He’s comfortable with Manny and Jon. He’s in a good spot.”
Burnham’s connection with Jennings has been obvious since training camp and his relationship with Arceneaux is definitely evident in the Lions locker room. Arceneaux is every bit into goal-setting as his receiving teammate and with only a few yards separating the pair, have set up a nice race for the club lead with four crucial games left.
“We’re always competing,” Burnham said.
So what’s next when you’ve just ticked a 200-yard receiving game off your bucket list? You’ll need to coax the man to produce his notebook to find out. Or if you’re the Lions, watch and hope.
IN SHORT: Burnham will lineup on offence alongside returning receiver Shawn Gore, one of three roster changes for the Lions Friday. Jeremiah Johnson will replace Anthony Allen in the backfield. RT Antonio Johnson also returns after sitting out the opener in Winnipeg. The Bombers list both linebackers Ian Wild and Maurice Leggett as starters but neither is expected to play as both had little involvement at practice this week. To win the season series, the Lions must prevail by at least three points as a result of Winnipeg’s 37-35 win in the opener…. Anyone willing to believe the suggestion earlier this season that CB Ronnie Yell would be able to return from the foot injury which sidelined him before an Aug. 31 game in Toronto should think otherwise. Yell showed up to practice this week still in a walking boot and crutches. In addition to Yell, the Lions also lost DB starters T.J. Lee and Stephen Clarke to season-ending injuries.