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Posted on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

Walk-on Joey Burzynski flies up Michigan football team's depth chart

By Kyle Meinke

The Michigan football team practiced 14 times this spring. No fans. No reporters. No cameras, except their own.

So when the Wolverines finally unveiled Team 133 during their spring game Saturday, it was the public's first peek into whose stock rose and fell during camp. The big surprise?

Joey Burzynski started at left guard ahead of fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer, who had received considerable public praise from coaches throughout camp.

Don't feel bad if you've never head of Burzynski. He's a walk-on offensive lineman. You're not supposed to have heard of him.

But it appears you will.


Joey Burzynski

"When you're a walk-on and you're battling to get in that depth, you'll never get in that depth until you get somebody's attention," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "He's had opportunities, and he's taken advantage of them."

Burzynski is a sophomore from Carlsbad, Calif. He stands 6-foot-1, 284 pounds, which is a little undersized for the position, and isn't blessed with superior athletic skills.

But toward the end of last season, he began to catch the coaches' attention. By the halfway point of spring camp, he was running with the first unit.

And it's not because of his brawn.

"Joe is not a bad athlete, but he's probably not as athletic as some of the other guys," Borges said. "That means he has to study the game and play with awareness. I think that is what he has done, as much as anything, to put himself in the position that he is in."

Burzynski had a little help, as star left tackle Taylor Lewan took the sophomore under his wing in the offseason.

Lewan recognized his understudy's physical limitations. But he also calls him a "genius."

"His major is something I can't pronounce," Lewan quipped.

It's biomedical engineering, for the record -- one of Michigan's most-difficult fields of study -- and Burzynski still managed to be named academic All-Big Ten last season.

Lewan said that cerebral quality makes him a quick learner, which has facilitated his rise up the depth chart.

"He doesn't make the same mistake twice -- he makes new mistakes, which is a good thing in football," Lewan said. "You don't want to get re-coached over and over on the same thing.

"Joey does what the coaches tell him to do, and he does it 100 percent, and it's showing. I mean, he's definitely improving."

Michigan has a recent tradition of walk-ons contributing. In fact, last year's 17th-ranked defense featured two of them as starters in safety Jordan Kovacs and defensive lineman Will Heininger. But they are the exceptions, not the rule.

Walk-ons typically need to stand out for an extended period of time to get the nod over a scholarship player -- and Burzynski appears to be doing that. They also need an opportunity -- and he might get that, too, as Michigan shuffles its offensive line.

Two players started at left guard last year, but Michael Schofield has moved to right tackle and Ricky Barnum to center. Burzynski seems to be ahead of Mealer to fill the void, but that battle will persist into fall camp.

By then, he'll also have to compete with Kyle Kalis, one of America's best high school offensive linemen.

But Burzynski is in the discussion -- perhaps at the head of it -- and that's further along than anyone anticipated.

"I think even Joey might have surprised himself," Lewan said. "He kind of came out of left field,"

A left guard, out of left field, at just the right time for a team sore on offensive line depth.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

Kudos to Joey Burzynski for bringing his multi-talented self to the Michigan Football Program. Few can take on the burdens of both academic and athletic challenges represented here. The better the performance of the offensive line, the better the chance that the QB and RBs will produce at a higher level. It's great to see Coaches Hoke, Borges and Mattison taking such a comprehensive approach to building a championship team. Over the past 14 months, we've witnessed the re-integration of what was a badly fragmented football program. So far, I've seen no evidence that there is anything being overlooked or ignored (or poorly done) in restoring Michigan to football prominence.

Scott Laux

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 6:14 a.m.

Nice to think we at least have some depth on the line. We'll need it. There are always injuries.

Terry Star21

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

What a great story; A Walk On, studying one of the most difficult degrees - only @ Michigan ! Wish you the best of luck, and staying - and becoming a champion. MgoBlueForTiM....waiting for MM Ted's advice......

Matt Patercsak

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

I like the kid. He played pretty well too. But I am hoping that Kyle Kalis eventually wins the starting guard position. This incoming class of freshman will alleviate so much in the way of depth.

Matt Patercsak

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 3:48 a.m.

I would just like for every member of the offensive line to be at least 300lbs. (center aside)


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

On second thought, didn't mean to sound so negative...I'm hoping Burzynski & Mealer keep Kalis on the bench because they're the better option, even though Kalis is sure to be a badazz when his time comes. The Oline has the potential to be a position of strength this year...imagine the yards Fitz and Rawls can crank out behind a unit that's firing on all cylinders. Now THAT would be Meeeeechigan football !!! GO BLUE!!!


Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

That is asking an awful lot of a freshman to get up to speed enough to start on the Oline. It takes a while to learn the scheme, assignments, etc. not to mention the all important aspect of how an Oline "gels" from playing together over time. If Kalis does start in his freshman year that either means he is a serious badazz or it means the incumbents aren't very good.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

At the very least, it sounds like there may be some much-needed depth on the O-line this year. Every bit helps.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 6:41 p.m.

How could you not like this story? Though, I would also like the story of Mealer getting a starting assignment after all he and his family have been through. But in the picture, this guy LOOKS like a lineman. Look at that neck!! The engineering profs must look at him, and think he is on the wrong campus or something LOL.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

i love walk-ons, ESPECIALLY when they PROVE they are the exception and not the rule. . . KOVACS and HEININGER came out of noware!! know it's JOEY'S TURN!! GO BLUE!!!!!!

Terry Star21

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.

They sure seem to be the hungriest bunch, wish him the best.