by Richard Obert – Aug. 24, 2009 09:56 PM
The Arizona Republic
Sara Burciaga started to cry when she saw her 18-year-old son, Juan, walk into their south Phoenix home this summer.
For nearly a month, the Laveen Cesar Chavez High senior lineman lived with assistant coach Bill Patterson at his Mesa ranch home. Burciaga poured and shoveled cement. He ripped apart concrete slabs. He cleaned horse stalls and fed buffaloes. He ran. He lifted weights. He did rope drills in sand. He pulled out river rock from the bottom of a pool.
A remarkable transformation of body, mind and spirit turned Burciaga from a guy who couldn’t get into a three-point stance last year to a possible four-year-college football prospect as he enters his final season.
Since last season, the 6-foot-3 Burciaga went from carrying 50.6 percent body fat to 28 percent, from weighing 370 pounds to 269. He had not been under 300 pounds since he was 11.
Sara said she was amazed and proud.
As a seventh-grader, Burciaga, the oldest of three children, was at his heaviest. He weighed 435 pounds. He was teased. He didn’t want to play sports for fear of being called names.
“I wasn’t doing much then,” Burciaga said. “I would barely talk. I was shy.”
He got under 400 pounds his freshman year and went out for football.
Burciaga said obesity and heart disease runs on his father’s side of the family, so he knew he needed to try something.
Burciaga became Patterson’s project last football season when coach Jim Rattay approached Patterson, a power lifter and former Nebraska running back.
“He said, ‘You need to work with this guy; I think there’s something in him,’ ” Patterson said. “I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ We got him down to 350 during the season.”
Still, before being sent down to the junior-varsity team last year, Burciaga was last in every drill. He couldn’t get through the rope drill without stumbling or stopping after a couple steps.
At first, he said he was scared of the idea of living with Patterson for nearly a month this summer.
“I’m not a farm boy and all that,” he said. “I’m a city boy.”
In addition to the physical labor and a daily running regimen, Patterson put Burciaga on a 1,600-calorie-a-day diet. He had him eliminate soda. Instead, he drank Crystal Light, “maybe a couple of gallons a day,” he said. Two weeks ago, when Chavez got into full pads in preparation for their season opener Friday at Mesa, Burciaga drove a defender to the sideline, causing Patterson to bust out that the kid had arrived.
“Absolutely, he does have a chance to play (at a four-year college),” Patterson said. “His parents thought he had flat feet. But he was carrying so much weight.”
Last year, the equipment manager had to connect two belts around a 54-inch waist that now is 44. He went from a size-5XL T-shirt to a 2XL.
“He looks way different,” senior center Shawn Encinas. said. “He plays different. He can run. He can move.
“He’s got a different attitude about everything.”
Burciaga went from being withdrawn to a vocal leader, a kid who carries a 3.5 grade-point average in the classroom and a swagger on the field.
“I like the new me,” he said.
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