Metamora football 2010

Tom Batters
Tyler Burch

METAMORA — When Tyler Burch was a little boy, Metamora football coach Pat Ryan used to let him run on the field with the players during practices.

Ryan’s generosity left a lasting impression on Burch, who is a senior captain for the 2010 Redbirds.

“That was so much fun, just being around the players and coaches. It was a thrill for me to get to be on the field,” Burch said. “Ever since I was little, I have looked up to the players and Coach Ryan. It was always my dream to play for the Redbirds someday.”

Burch is living that dream, but it almost came to a nightmarish end a couple years ago.

In 2009, his sophomore year, Burch suffered pain in his ankle, so he went to the doctor to get it checked.

The news was not good.

“The doctors said I had the foot of a 60-year-old, and that I might not ever play football again,” Burch said. “They didn’t really know what to do about it.”

Burch had to go to Iowa City to have a delicate and unique surgery, which involved the insertion of three screws and cadaver cartilage into his ankle.

After the surgery in May of 2009, Burch could not get back on the field for that entire summer. He missed the start of last season as he rehabilitated the ankle.

“There was a lot of therapy, and a lot of pain,” he said. “But, you do what you gotta do.”

Burch, whose father, Tom, was a captain for the 1985 Redbirds, said he never doubted he would play again.

“You grow up wanting to play for Metamora, and you want it so bad,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let that (ankle surgery) stop me from continuing my football career. It was hard to go through, but it made me stronger in the end.”

Ryan remembers a conversation he had with Burch shortly after the doctors delivered their prognosis.

“I told him we would still love him, even if he could never play football again,” Ryan said. “Tyler, first and foremost, is a good kid, and we would have been just as proud of him if the surgery didn’t work out. It worked out OK, though. We feel very lucky that he was able to get the help he needed.”

Burch said his ankle is fully healed, although there are some days when the pain flares up again.

“I just take some ibuprofen and I’m good to go,” he said.

On guard...

Burch played offensive tackle last year for the state champion Redbirds, but Ryan said he might move him to guard this season.

“Tyler is so versatile,” Ryan said. “He’s strong and athletic, and, for a big guy, he’s pretty light on his feet.”

Burch made the varsity team as a freshman in 2008.

“That was a little intimidating,” he said. “The practices were so intense. The action was so fast. And, of course, when you are a freshman, they’re going to be harder on you. Looking back on it, though, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. It was a great experience.”

Metamora won the Class 5A title that season.

Burch became a starter in 2009 and returned as a starter last year after the Washington game, which is still a sore subject around the Redbird locker room.

“That was a horrible feeling (a 28-7 loss to Washington in Week 2). We just weren’t prepared enough,” he said. “But, it was a wake-up call. We got it together after that.”

The Redbirds went on to defeat Geneseo, 41-7, in the Class 4A championship game.

“That was an awesome game,” Burch said. “After hearing Coach Ryan’s pregame speech, we knew we were going to win. He had us so fired up. The best part about that game was how much we worked as a team. Everybody communicated and worked together.”

Burch has one goal for this season: another state championship ring.

He said he likes the team’s chances, but it won’t be easy.

“Everybody wants to beat Metamora,” he said. “Teams are going to come after us, so we have to give our best effort every day in practice, so we’re ready.”

He takes his role as a senior captain (with Michael Fay, Bryan Love and Brett McKinney) seriously. He said he hopes to pass along a few lessons to the younger players.

“You gotta work hard, but it’s also important to have fun, stay positive, and enjoy it while it lasts,” he said. “Off the field, you gotta keep your head straight and do the right thing. That’s kind of what being a Metamora football player is all about.”