High school football is big in Placer County.
It’s where Miles Burris’ game really took off, playing for coach Ernie Cooper at Granite Bay High School. Burris committed himself to football year-round, staying active in weight training and conditioning programs.
“(Cooper) runs a great program there,” Burris said. “It’s an all-year gig and he does a great job of keeping the players competitive, keeping them loving football and helping them chase their dreams.
“That was where my dreams all got started.”
Burris ranked as the country’s 30th-best inside linebacker by Rivals.com.
He was twice named All-Metro League and was Granite Bay’s defensive player of the year following both his junior and senior seasons.
He went on to play at San Diego State and today is in Napa, a fourth-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders who is in training camp as a rookie linebacker with the Silver and Black — practicing at Redwood Middle School, attending meetings at the Napa Valley Marriott, looking to make the team for the 2012 season.
“It’s been going pretty well so far,” Burris said after Monday’s practice. “I’m just trying to focus on getting better every day, not making the same mistakes, but there’s still some there. We’re trying to shore those up watching film and staying in the playbook.”
The Raiders signed Burris (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) in June. He was a two-time All-Mountain West Conference first-team selection at San Diego State and led the Aztecs in tackles as a senior, posting 78 stops, including 46 solo tackles, and 19.5 tackles for loss. Burris added eight sacks and three fumble recoveries that same season.
The Roseville, Calif., native led the Mountain West Conference with 9.5 sacks as a junior, which ranked as the seventh-highest single-season total in program history. He also led the team with 80 tackles and was named the 2010 San Diego State Student-Athlete of the Year.
“He plays really hard,” coach Dennis Allen said yesterday. “He’s an energetic guy. He understands football, but yet at the same time, we’ve thrown a lot of things at him and he’s still got to continue to improve to get better.
“He’s going to be a good player. We’ve just got to work through some of the consistency issues. This is a complex game and we throw a lot of things at them. Every day you want to see them improve a little bit. We call them repeat mistake offenders — we don’t want to see guys that make the same mistakes over and over. He’s done a pretty nice job of getting some things corrected.”
Burris earned academic All-Conference honors three times and was a preseason first-team All-Conference selection by Athlon Sports, Blue Ribbon, Lindy’s Sports, Mountain West media, Phil Steele and The Sporting News.
He played in 50 games with 38 starts in four years at San Diego State.
There is a lot for a rookie like Burris to take in with the playbook, schemes and systems. Coaches may put something new into the defense one day, requiring a player to make an adjustment. The offense may have a new look all of a sudden at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s just getting a chance to see all those different looks,” said Allen, who is a defensive-minded coach. “It’s a developmental process with him. He continues to improve, but there are still a lot of things we’ve got to get corrected with him.”
Adjustment process for rookie
Burris was the second pick of this year’s draft for the Raiders, who opened camp in late July. There’s a big adjustment going from college to the NFL, and now that the pads are on and there is full contact, coaches can really start making some player personnel evaluations, determining who is in the running to make the roster.
“As soon as we threw the pads on, it’s competitive and it’s aggressive and tough football,” he said outside the team’s fieldhouse.
Burris was on the field a lot Monday, getting reps with the defense against the offense and gaining more and more experience. He stripped the ball on one play from Mike Goodson, a running back, after Goodson caught a pass.
“We’ve got great coaches on our staff,” Burris said. “They’re teaching us really well, and we’re going out there and getting a little better every day. They’re always good with telling us what we did wrong and how to get better.”
Burris’ family was on hand for open practices over the weekend. It was only an hour and a half drive for his family to get to Napa for camp and they’re also planning to see Burris play home games at O.co Coliseum in Oakland.
“It’s just very exciting to be right on the fringe of living out my dream of playing in the NFL,” said Burris, one of the top players to come out of Granite Bay. “I haven’t really taken the mind-set that I’ve arrived yet. I know I’ve got to still go out and make this team and prove to the coaches what I can do out on the field — and that’s every day in camp. I’ve just got to be locked in on every single play.
“All the reps that I’ve been getting, I’ve got to take advantage of every one of them and try to get better with them. I’ve made some good plays here and there, but I’ve also made some mistakes. I’ve got a lot of things to make better in my game and I’ve got a lot of improvement to make, and I can do that every day.”
Growing up in Placer County, an area rich in football success and tradition, made Burris want to work hard on his game and to continue his career.
Granite Bay plays in the very tough Sierra Foothill League and last year won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title, beating Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove in the finals. Granite Bay has a current postseason streak of 13 years. The Grizzlies won the DII title in 1999, 2000 and 2007.
The Sacramento area also features top programs like Del Oro-Loomis, Nevada Union-Grass Valley, Grant-Sacramento and Folsom.
“It’s something about the coaches at each one of those programs instilling pride in their players and instilling a level of wanting to be the best, and that creates a competitive environment just within your own team,” said Burris. “You’re competing against your own teammates and trying to get better and better, and win spots.
“It’s the consistency of the coaches continuing to do a great job in instilling those values.”