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The Canadian Football League is ripe with the kind of ‘feel good’ stories that could easily be pitched to a Hollywood producer on any given day. The trail blazed by a Philadelphia kid named Bryan Burnham tops that list.
His senior season at the University of Tulsa cut short due to injury; the athletic wide receiver was looking for any pro team to give him a shot. That’s where his sister Shannon Ulmer came in. Working as the executive assistant to Wally Buono in the winter of 2014, she got the process rolling by putting a good word in for her younger brother.
“It’s kind of funny thinking about that,” chuckled Burnham as the ink was still drying on a new two-year contract signed Monday morning.
“I was just talking to my sister Shannon yesterday and kind of taking a moment to look back and realize how far you’ve come and coming from (being a) kid and (having) this girl who worked upstairs and slid a name onto the desk of Wally Buono. To see where that’s gone and to see how far we’ve taken off from there, man it’s just so awesome that I had a sister that cared so much about me and wanted nothing but the best for me. Now I’m in an organization that wants nothing but the best and cares about me. I care about them too.”
Nearly five years after the fact, Burnham’s tale is one that keeps on giving. Three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, a pair of CFL All-Star selections and countless highlight-reel catches later; it’s safe to say Shannon’s suggestion paid off. And even if Lions fans were getting nervous at the prospect of their squad’s leading receiver testing the market on Tuesday morning, they can take comfort in the fact Burnham confirmed what we suspected all along. He wasn’t going anywhere else. He and his wife Aubrey spending this winter in a new home in New Westminster was further proof of his ambitions.
“I can’t put it into words; just how exciting it is to be back home,” said Burnham.
“With the whole process of free agency, it’s a little different than past years. A little more hectic, but everything worked out, man. I’m very happy to be back in BC and to be with Ed and this new coaching staff. I’m really excited about it.”
It’s one thing to remain loyal to an organization and a community that took a chance on you. With that, many sought after players also need to be sold by those running the franchise that they will be surrounded by great people striving toward the common goal of winning a championship. As discussions with GM Ed Hervey heated up before the deal was finalized, Burnham’s desire to remain in orange was only heightened.
“Aside from loving the city, I think what Ed is doing here, it’s a big deal,” explained number 16.
“Whatever it meant and however it got done, I wanted to be a part of it. With (DeVone) Claybrooks and this young coaching staff, it’s going to be a lot of energy and we’re going to hit the ground rolling. I know tomorrow (the start of free agency), is a big day. I’m looking forward to seeing some new guys here and hopefully, we bring back some old guys and we’re going to make this thing work. I’m really excited about it.”
ʺBryan is a big part of our offence and this is a key signing for us on the eve of free agency.ʺ said Hervey.
ʺWe believe that we haven’t yet seen how good Bryan can truly be in this league. He has all the tools to grow into one of the most dangerous and impactful players on the field.ʺ
The support of his family no doubt made the transition to pro football easier. Not only are his wife and sister full-time lower mainland residents, his parents Lem, a former defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Barbara, a schoolteacher, make the trip to just about every road game in the East and a handful of home games at BC Place. And of course, now he is fuelled by the chase of his first Grey Cup ring.
“There’s a lot of unfinished business here. I’m not someone who just wants to jump ship and go to the highest bidder. I want to go to the team I believe is in a position to make noise. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. It’s about time BC Lions fans are able to see us hoist the Grey Cup.”
It wouldn’t be a great Hollywood movie without sipping from a trophy before the credits roll.