When you're 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and run like a mutant, the simple fact of your existence is hyperbole enough. Still, it's not going too far to call Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict "The Most Feared Man In College Football" in 2011, possibly even on his own sideline: On any given play, his reputation for leaving opponents in a heap is matched only by his reputation for leaving the Sun Devils in a tight spot via personal fouls and other dumb penalties. When Burfict's on the field, whatever colors you're wearing, fear is a rational response.
As the Los Angeles Times points out today, though, from Vontaze's point of view, football probably strikes him as one of the safest, least frightening things he's ever done:
It is not farfetched to suggest that Burfict is lucky to be alive today — a couple of times over.
At 4 months, Burfict had after a near-fatal bout with rotavirus, a disease common among infants that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, and was hospitalized for a month and a half.
At 3, he was playing with a lighter and burned down the family's one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in West Covina, a fire from which he barely escaped.
At 13, while riding in his mother's car on the 210 Freeway in San Dimas, an 18-wheel truck sideswiped them, pushing the car over a cliff, where it tumbled two stories.
"Nobody should've come out of that car alive," said Lisa Williams, his mother.
To recap: As a small child, the hardest-hitting man in the sport burned down his family home amid a series of other disasters, which adds a sobering new context to references to Burfict's "path of destruction" through the Pac-12. In the same article, USC quarterback Matt Barkley calls his old high school rival "a dirty player" ahead of Arizona State's visit to the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday night ("His switch is always on. And it's not a good switch."), and for that, Matt, our prayers are with you.
The Times also reports that Burfict's father was incarcerated on drug related charges when Vontaze was two, and that he survived his teenage years in southern California by outrunning "weapon-wielding gangs" on more than one occasion. From there, this football thing, it's not so hard. And by this time next year, if he keeps his head straight and all his parts in working condition, it should give him the financial wherewithal to replace that old family apartment at least a thousand times over.