CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marvin Burdette has tackled every bit of adversity thrown his way, including his team's 31 losses in 45 games over four years.Burdette has also tackled every ball carrier who comes his way, it seems - and tracked down many ball carriers who were going in other directions.The 5-foot-11, 230-pound linebacker from Batesville, Miss., has overcome a change in the head coach, two changes of defensive coordinators and back pain, not to mention the pain of his Alabama-Birmingham team losing way too much for his liking.Despite his team's 2-7 record, he is having a big senior season, which he will continue Saturday against Marshall at Legion Field. Kickoff time is 4:30 p.m. EST, with the game airing on WVAH, channel 11 in Charleston-Huntington.
Burdette is second in the nation with 12.78 tackles per game, trailing only Toledo's Dan Moll. His 7.11 solo tackles lead the FBS. But that's not the most startling stat.Consider this - Burdette's 115 total tackles is more than double the nearest teammate, and his nine tackles for loss lead the team by far. He also is tied for the lead on a sack-deprived defense, with two.With nine tackles on Saturday, he will become UAB's all-time leader. He has 364, only behind the 372 of Zac Woodfin (2001-04). Marshall players and coaches have respectfully singled out Burdette this week, point to his simple ability to get outside quickly from his spot in the middle and tackle surely.Burdette played in 2009 as a true freshman, even starting two games. He had a big year in 2010, ranking fifth in Conference USA with 114 tackles and earning honorable mention All-C-USA honors.A back injury hampered his junior year, as well as a lack of offseason conditioning. Sidelined the previous summer, he put on unwanted weight and his productivity dropped a tick.
Changes in coaches haven't made things easier. In that 2011 season, coach Neil Callaway brought in former Memphis head coach Tommy West as defensive coordinator.After the Blazers' 3-9 season, Callaway and his staff were shown the door. With Garrick McGee and defensive coordinator Reggie Johnson arriving, Burdette had to digest a whole new system, communicate to his teammates in an entirely new manner and help shepherd the younger players through the trauma of a coaching change.Burdette says there is a little more to digest in Johnson's system."The mental aspect is more. He asks a lot more," Burdette said. "West is a great coach and I won't take anything for him, but he made things simple so you can play faster, but Coach Johnson, he wants to play with high intensity, and it's not going to be easy; it's going to be complex. You get to 'I know this, this is what's I've got to do,' and that allows you to play faster."So far, the results have been mixed, at best. The Blazers yielded 126 points in a three-game stretch, getting roughed up for 566 total yards by Houston, 600 by East Carolina and 619 by Tulane. But that fell to 295 yards last week in a 27-19 win over Southern Mississippi.The Blazers are another team who must cope with Marshall's "NASCAR" offensive attack, which has run fewer than 89 plays in just one game. Burdette, who compares the Herd offense to that of Houston with Case Keenum, could easily match his career-high 24 tackles.
Burdette is eager to go for that, but he also wants and to help make his younger teammates better. With three games left in his college career, he's certainly not going to let up."Right now, Coach Johnson and Coach McGee are telling us we're still playing for a lot," he said. "In the game of college football, it's not just football. Football prepares you for life and for everything. When you're an athlete in college, you have a better chance than other people when you come out because you're asked to perform at high levels."Right now, we're playing for our seniors. We're playing for the freshmen and you're playing for everybody. Even though the season didn't go the way you wanted to go, you're still trying to show the guys how to win, to get to that crossroads where you say, 'To heck with losing, it's time to win.'"So we've still got a lot to play for."