The center of a Nebraska recruiting coup, life’s twists and a lasting connection

The same spring day in 2006 that coaching titan Pete Carroll of USC toted his young offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, to Moon Valley High in Phoenix, Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer and Georgia’s Mark Richt dropped by the campus. They came to steal a look at the kid who had played football for less than two years.

Jaivorio Burkes’ coach appreciated the attention, but he had other ideas.

Roger Britson worshiped Nebraska in the Tom Osborne era. Britson grew up in Radcliffe, Iowa, a farming town 60 miles north of Des Moines. And Dennis Wagner, the Huskers offensive line coach under Bill Callahan from 2004 to ’07, just happened to have attended high school with Britson’s older siblings.

“I wanted one of my kids to go to Nebraska,” Britson said, “especially a lineman.”

It happened, tipping a domino en route to one of the most unlikely recruiting hauls in Nebraska football history.

Young defensive assistant Bill Busch snagged five Arizona prospects in the Class of 2007. A mystifying talent and the central figure in Busch’s coup, Burkes connected everyone 15 years ago and continues to make an impact after his 2020 death.

In that summer before Burkes’ senior season, Britson packed his new four-door, lifted Ford F150 4×4 with football players from Arizona. Burkes, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound offensive tackle, rode shotgun with his coach. They drove straight through to Iowa, more than 1,500 miles, stopping in Amarillo, Texas, at a Gold’s Gym and briefly in Kansas City.

Burkes, Britson and the Arizona kids stayed for five weeks. They ate breakfast at 3:30 a.m. before detasseling corn in the July heat, then lifting weights on concrete in front of the machine shed at the home of Britson’s parents. After, they’d drive into Radcliffe to finish working out.

On the return trip to Phoenix, Britson took a northern route and stopped in Lincoln, Neb. They convened at Memorial Stadium with Busch, the Nebraska defensive assistant who scouted Burkes and had begun an intense pursuit of several prospects from the West Valley in Phoenix.

Author: Lucy Green