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As Trainer, Burrell Puts Players First

By Gary Fitzgerald


John Burrell's career as a NFL athletic trainer seems to be permanently linked to Mark Brunell.

When Burrell first entered the league as an assistant with Jacksonville in 1995, Brunell arrived as the Jaguars' new quarterback. Nine years later, it's déjà vu. Burrell joined Joe Gibbs' staff last January as the team's head athletic trainer and a couple months later, the Redskins acquired Brunell from Jacksonville.

Burrell is proud he helped convince Gibbs that Brunell was a worthy investment. As Gibbs was considering a trade for Brunell, he would frequently ask Burrell his impressions of the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

"Every day, Coach Gibbs would ask me about Mark and my eyes would glow as I gave these rave reviews," Burrell said, laughing. "Finally, Coach Gibbs just laughed and said, You know what, I'm going to stop asking you because you've already sold him.'"

Burrell was initially surprised that Gibbs would come to him for an opinion on such an important decision. But that's just the way Gibbs goes about business.

"It's just a smart way to try to figure out everything you can about someone you want to bring into your organization," Burrell said. "You have to uncover everything possible to make sure he's someone you want to invest in."

Of Brunell, Burrell said: "Mark is such a great person. When I came to Jacksonville, he came from Green Bay and I was the first person he actually met from the Jaguars organization because I picked him up from the airport. Then when he came to Washington, I was the first one to meet him at the door when he arrived here."

With the Redskins, Burrell is working under Bubba Tyer, who is the team's director of sports medicine. Also on the athletic training staff are assistant athletic trainer Eric Steward and physical therapist Larry Hess.

A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Burrell received a degree in athletic training from the University of Southern Mississippi. He spent five years as a summer assistant athletic trainer with the Atlanta Falcons before accepting a full-time job with the expansion Jaguars in 1995.

"I expected a lot of growing pains in Jacksonville, but after our first year, there weren't any growing pains because we were in the playoffs," Burrell said. "It was a great learning experience."

Burrell has also worked as the head athletic trainer at Alcorn State University (in Lorman, Miss.) and assistant athletic trainer of the now-defunct Shreveport Pirates of the Canadian Football League.

In his first season as head athletic trainer with the Redskins, Burrell is working closely with Tyer and the coaching staff.

It was Tyer who recommended that Gibbs hire Burrell. Tyer, of course, is one of the most popular figures in Redskins history, spending 32 seasons with the organization, 25 as head athletic trainer. He came out of retirement last January to join Gibbs in returning to the Redskins.

"Bubba is one of the legends of the game as far as athletic training is concerned," Burrell said. "Once I got into the league, I got to know him from the National Athletic Trainers Association meetings. It's an honor to work with him."

Burrell approaches his job by putting the players' welfare first.

"You try to evaluate each athlete's injury on an individual basis and then come up with the best treatment and regimen possible," he said. "Those are the basic foundations you need to get to what you need to do to get players back on the field. We don't put players back out there who cannot give their all and we make sure players understand that.

"Working hard with players and being honest--that's the best approach. Those are my X's and O's."

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