YODER – Jeff Burroughs and Matt Burkart want to – and hope to – inspire others to follow their own dreams with their success stories.
As a result, they cherished the opportunity to come home and do just that.
Last week the duo, both Division I student-athletes, took advantage of being home for Christmas break to inspire and challenge students at the Southeast schools in the same gym where their stories began.
“Like I was telling Jeff before we started with the high school kids, we really don’t get to talk about our experiences and have the opportunity to share with the youth,” Burkart said. “It takes us back to the days of being a little kid or a kid in high school, looking up to people and hoping to get to where we want to be in life, chase dreams, have goals.”
Burroughs echoed those sentiments.
“Personally, when you are in Laramie, sometimes, you may think you are somewhat insignificant and not that interested in what you have to say, but when you come back, like Matt said, you grew up in a small community and everybody is so glad to have you come back and share your story,” he said.
Burroughs is a Southeast graduate and fullback for the University of Wyoming Cowboys.
As a Cyclone, he was a multi-sport athlete and was a two-time all-state selection and three-time all-conference honoree in football. During his senior season, he made the Casper Star-Tribune’s Super 25 team after rushing for 1,203 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“To be able to come home and have people who are proud of you and want you to share your message with them that’s really cool,” Burroughs said. “When you are in a college town, you have that life where you can walk around, but when you come back home, everyone knows who you are and asks how you are doing.”
Burroughs is coming off his sophomore season where he saw playing time in six games during the 2018 season after going from walk on to a scholarship player.
After a 2-6 start to the season, the Cowboys rattled off four straight wins, finishing the season bowl eligible at 6-6.
“We would have like to gotten to a bowl game, but I think the coaches, players and even the fans are proud of the way we finished the season,” Burroughs said.
He was happy to have sent the seniors out on a winning note despite not being selected for a bowl game.
“These are the seniors who have turned the program around, and you want to give everything you have for them, to make sure they go out the right way,” Burroughs said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a bowl game, but it’s definitely going to carry momentum into spring ball and into next fall. I think people are excited for next season.”
Meanwhile, Burkart is the son of Southeast assistant football coach Shawn Burkart and an outfielder for the University of Northern Colorado Bears.
He grew up in the area before moving south to attend Eaton (Colo.) High School where he dominated the baseball diamond, earning four all-state and all-conference honors and hit .501 for his high school career.
“I feel like we were very fortunate to grow up in this community because they were really helpful and really supportive of us going on and chasing our dreams,” Burkart said. “Anytime we come back, it’s really good to give back to those who gave to us.”
This spring will be his third as a member of the Bears program and will be a potentially critical season for Burkart’s future.
Burkart is eligible for the Major League Baseball amateur draft in June, and with a strong season, he hopes a team will call his name next summer.
During his sophomore season, he went out and earned a starting spot, hitting .325 and leading the team with 17 doubles and eight home runs. Coming into the 2019 season, Burkart will be looked to for experience and leadership.
“It’s a cool feeling to be in that position where it’s my time to lead the team, and hopefully, bring a lot of wins back to Greeley,” Burkart said.
A year ago, the Bears finished 29-24, their first winning season since 2012.
“Historically, the program has been pretty good, but in the last decade, it hasn’t,” Burkart said. “Part of the reason I wanted to go to UNC was to try to turn that program around and get it back on track and try to get the ball rolling with it. It’s our home Division I baseball team. Even here, geographically, there is no Division I baseball.”
Both of them know and understand as Division I athletes they have a lot of eyes watching them, but to them, they don’t see themselves as role models.
“It’s different. You are viewed as a role model where as you don’t view yourself that way when you are going to practice and class every day,” Burroughs said.
Burkart added, “Like Jeff said, when you are out and in college, you are just another college kid. You’re a student-athlete. You’re just a baseball player. You’re a student. You’re a boyfriend. You’re a classmate. You’re a teammate. You don’t realize all the eyes you have watching you.”
With that comes a unique responsibility.
“It’s really cool, but you also have a responsibility to continue to grow as a person and not let people down who have sacrificed a bunch for you and invested countless time and energy into you,” Burkart said.
And that is something Burroughs and Burkart were putting into practice last week by giving back to the community where it all started for them.