YSU's Burley makes good on promise

YOUNGSTOWN -- Five yards were all that separated Jerald Burley from the end zone. He tried to maneuver one too many times and fell short.
That was during a punt return for Stoneman Douglas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that he still remembers today.
If Burley ever got another opportunity, he told himself, he would complete the return by staying on his feet for 5 final yards.
Fast forward to Saturday at Stambaugh Stadium, with Burley wearing the red, white and black of Youngstown State.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior finally made good on his promise.
Burley returned a fourth-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown to help key the Penguins' 44-30 victory over Illinois State.
"I'm not going to cut myself short. I do have God-given ability," said Burley, who also made a sensational 33-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. "But I couldn't do none of that without [my teammates]."
First since 1992: The punt return by Burley was Youngstown State's first for a touchdown since Dec. 12, 1992, when Dave Roberts returned one 71 yards against Northern Iowa.
"At least I can say I was here for both of them," Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock said.
"Jerald's a talented guy," Heacock added. "I think we'll find out there were some good blocks -- we had them pinned in there a little bit -- and he hit a couple seams. He has the ability to be a dangerous player, and he was on that play."
Burley said he "muffed" his first punt return and was reminded by Heacock to concentrate on fundamentals.
"The next time, I looked [the ball] all the way into my hands, and those guys blocked for me," Burley said. "I did the easy part. All the other guys had the hard work. They wanted it more than I did. I just ran."
Burley's punt return came with 13 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the game and helped put Youngstown State ahead 37-23. He returned three punts for 103 yards against the Redbirds.
"My position coach [Trent Boykin] is always telling me that a big-time player has to make big plays," Burley said.
"I just knew we had to come back out the second half and play, so I just buckled all four chin straps and was ready to play."
Illinois State coach Denver Johnson used "dangerous" to describe members of the Penguins' return team.
"They have such great speed with them back there," Johnson said. "A couple of our guys got knocked out of their lanes [during the return]."
Big TD grab: While Burley's punt return was drawing much of the attention following the game, his second-quarter touchdown reception from quarterback Jeff Ryan was just as impressive.
"I kind of forgot about that one," laughed Burley, who again praised his teammates -- the protection from the offensive line and the pass from Ryan.
Burley extended high amid coverage and brought the ball in with his fingertips before falling into the end zone.
"At Northern Iowa, I cut myself short," Burley said. "I jumped too early, and the ball went over me.
"I was being real patient [Saturday], and Jeff just threw a pretty ball," said Burley, who totaled two catches for 47 yards and the touchdown.
"He laid it out there and I just had to do my job; I just had to go make the catch."
Youngstown State began the possession following an interception by Antulio Aroche, and it took Ryan one play to find Burley in the center of the field with 1:21 remaining until halftime.