Burrell football team gets call to Hall

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Friday, July 13, 2018 | 11:36 PM


It took R.J. Beach a few minutes to recognize the person talking to him and his Burrell teammates after the conclusion of a seven-on-seven tournament earlier this week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Then the speaker identified himself as one of the inductees into the hall, and a Steelers legend to boot: Rod Woodson, Hall of Fame class of 2009.

“I was like, wow, I’m standing right beside a Hall of Famer,” said Beach, a rising senior at Burrell.

Burrell’s trip to Canton, Ohio, one the team received thanks to an invitation from the Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy, provided several similar eye-opening experiences for the Bucs. In addition to playing seven-on-seven games against two of the top teams in the country, Burrell heard a speech from Woodson and received a tour of the Hall of Fame.

“Our kids, you could really see them soaking up that experience,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “They enjoyed it. I think they had a good time of it.”

The invitation to the camp came last week through a connection with former Charleroi coach Donnie Militzer, who took his team there last summer. It left Burrell with precious little time to organize its trip, but Liotta credited the program’s gridiron club and athletic director Drake D’Angelo for their legwork.

About 20 players made the trip, Liotta said.

Burrell played three games at Tom Benson Stadium, the site of the annual Hall of Fame Game. Their opponents were Cass Tech, a nationally ranked school near Detroit, and Cleveland’s Glenville High School, whose recent football alumni include NFL players such as Ted Ginn Jr., Marshon Lattimore, Troy Smith and Donte Whitner.

The Bucs dropped all three games, but Liotta said all of them came down to the final possession.

“At first, you don’t know what’s going to happen because you don’t want to look bad against them or something,” said Seth Fischbach, a rising junior. Then during the game, the nerves start getting out and you just want to play and look good in front of them. I think we did pretty good. We didn’t win, but that doesn’t matter. We still played to the best of our ability and competed pretty well.”

Added Beach: “Just from competing with Division I players like that, I think we definitely got better. I thought we did phenomenal from a team standpoint.”

After the seven on seven — sponsored by Xenith, which provided free gear to the participating teams — came a full tour of the Hall. Fischbach and Beach said they enjoyed the films and interactive exhibits, and Beach sought out the busts of Randy Moss and LaDanian Tomlinson, his favorite players.

“The overall experience was amazing,” Beach said. “The atmosphere was exciting and cool.

“I’m very blessed to get the opportunity. Just for us to even be there is a great feeling.”

Liotta, hired this spring as coach, is making an effort to get Burrell involved in seven on sevens, and he believes opportunities like Wednesday’s will provide good things for the Bucs.

“I was surprised how many of our kids had never been there,” Liotta said. “I’ve been there several times myself, but I was shocked that we had so many that had really never been there. That was really cool for them to get out there and experience that. I’m sure it’s a day they won’t forget, but more importantly as a football program, I think we improved. I think the kids earned the respect of those two nationally ranked teams.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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