Elevated possibilities

Burston excels on the field, expects the same in Division I

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

Some athletes can pinpoint the moment they fell in love with athletics. For others, sports are a part of their soul — something that has naturally been a part of who they are.

For  Contra Costa College sophomore quarterback Cameron Burston, the love of playing sports is something that has been with him since he was old enough to hold a ball.

Born Sept. 18, 1997 in Montgomery Alabama, Burston moved to Vallejo with his mother and older sister when he was 2 years old.

Raised in Solano County, he got his first taste of organized sports at age 6.

“They made me play tight end but we were too small to run pass plays so all they had me do was block,” Burston said. “Even then, I knew I wanted to make plays, catch the ball, do something.”

By eighth grade Burston was recognized as one of the more talented Pop Warner players in the Bay Area, however, instead of attending one of the area public high schools, the Burston family opted to send their son to Stellar Preparatory School in Oakland.

“I played against my high school coach’s (Desmond Gumbs) sons in Pop Warner,” Burston said. “He had the dream to start a school to help inner city kids that didn’t have very many opportunities.”

Gumbs gathered kids from across Solano County and the East Bay and brought them all together for the first year of Stellar Prep in 2011.

It was a rough start, but the kids made it work at Stellar despite the school not having a permanent campus in the first year.

Located in Hayward, before moving to Oakland Burston’s sophomore year, students carpooled, rode BART to bus or did anything that they could to make it to school on time.

Although varsity wins were hard to come by for Burston in his sophomore and junior years of high school, the quarterback blossomed in his senior year.

Burston made All-League as a senior in high school after leading Stellar Prep to an 8-4 record. Following the season, the senior made a verbal commitment to San Jose State University to play football.

“I earned the opportunity to play Division I football right out of high school, but the accreditation process for the school was not complete,” Burston said. “I couldn’t accept any DI offers and my coach had a relationship with coach (Alonzo) Carter so I came to CCC.”

In his first year with the Comets, Burston was a man among boys. He was named to the All Pacific 7 First Team for 2015 and owned first place in five statistical categories for quarterbacks in Northern California.

He was first in completions (158), completion percentage (63.5), yards (2,151), yards per game (215.1) and touchdowns (28).

“Cam (Burston) is physically gifted. When you get a kid like that you just give him little things to help him get better,” CCC offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Jeff Anderson said. “He makes all of the right throws.”

Burston made his impact immediately for the Comets. In his first game against Cabrillo College, the freshman threw for 230 yards and four touchdowns.

“In the first game I ran a wheel route past everyone. I just knew that I wasn’t going to get the ball,” CCC sophomore receiver Tyrone Morgan said. “Then I looked up and the ball dropped into my hands for a 30-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone.”

Even as the team won seven games in a row, Burston never let the pressure of living up to statistics get to him.

“I wasn’t paying attention to the numbers. In high school we didn’t have people covering us or monitoring our stats — we were just balling,” Burston said. “We also had a strong sophomore foundation that kept me focused. It made it easier to just go out and perform.”

After finishing the 2015 season 8-2, CCC lost a Living Breath Heritage Foundation Bowl game against Hartnell College 41-28.

The success solidified Burston as one of the state’s top prospects at quarterback.

“He’s a great teammate on and off of the field and a good role model to younger players,” Comet offensive lineman Ramtin Ababaf said. “He’s a good person to look up to. He set the bar high for everyone else in this program to follow his lead.”

Following the season, Burston signed a letter of intent to attend Cal State-Fresno on Aug. 1.

The 2016 season was billed to be the breakout year for the now rising star. The Comets moved to a tougher conference, the National Bay 6. The move would mean stiffer competition for CCC, but also, the eyes of more scouts.

The Comets lost their first three games and finished the 2016 season 3-7, with four of those losses coming by a touchdown or less.

“It was a reality check,” Burston said. “When everything didn’t go the way that we wanted it to go, some people got down instead of finding a way to work around it.”

In the sophomore’s mind, all he had to do was finish school at CCC and he was as good as gone.

Just as CCC had under-performed in its 2016 campaign, so had the Fresno State football team. On Oct. 23 Fresno State fired coach Tim Ruyter, the coach who recruited Burston. Three weeks later, the quarterback was called by newly hired Fresno coach Jeff Tedford to tell him that the offer had been rescinded.

“I would ask myself what I did wrong, even though I know that it wasn’t my fault,” Burston said. “There were countless long conversations with my parents and I’m not really the expressive type. But talks like that mean something — that’s what got me through it.”

For Burston, losing his athletic scholarship to Fresno meant the recruiting process was reopened, with no apparent front-runners. Burston chose the University of New Mexico because of the stable foundation that the school provides.

“It is a better fit,” Burston said. “I want to work with a staff that will be there for the long run. A coach that can help me grow like Carter did to get better on and off of the field.”

Burston perfectly fits the mold of what coaches envision when they look for a quarterback. His 6 feet 4 inch, 210 pound frame allows the 20-year-old to see over massive lineman while still remaining elusive enough to escape the pocket and scramble for a first down if a play breaks down.

“I see myself as a pocket passer with the ability to run,” Burston said. “I’m versatile. I can do more than one thing, not just run.”

He said, “If my team needs to pass, I have already proven that I can get the ball down the field.”

Despite not putting up the same astonishing statistics in his sophomore year he did in his freshman season, the incoming receivers understood the level of commitment Burston brought to the field.

“Playing with Cam (Burston) was amazing,” freshman receiver Samaj Mitchell said. “I wish he could come back here for one more season. Hopefully we will meet up on the next level.”