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How a simple phone call offers a peek at O.J. Burroughs' future

A glimpse at one of the KU safety's biggest goals can be seen every time his phone lights up

3 min read
Kansas safety O.J. Burroughs watches the action at a recent KU practice at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. [Chance Parker photo] 

Kansas safety O.J. Burroughs has been a solid contributor through his first two seasons with the Jayhawks.

The Savannah, Georgia native and former three-star prospect appeared in 23 games during the 2021 and 2022 seasons, starting most of them, and has become one of the more reliable players in the KU secondary.

Now, as he enters his first season as one of the veterans on the KU roster, Burroughs has his sights set on even bigger things for his future. And every time he receives a phone call or gets some kind of alert on his cell phone, the KU safety is reminded of that.

While talking about the secondary during a recent media session with reporters to preview the upcoming Kansas football season, Burroughs’ phone lit up.

The phone was lying face-up on the floor, but silent mode was on, so the alert did nothing to disrupt the interview. It did, however, catch my eye.

What appeared on the screen, with the phone brightly illuminated, was a picture of the logo for the 2024 NFL draft, complete with the NFL shield and the word “DRAFT” and year “2024” in big, bold letters and numbers.

That image has been Burroughs’ wallpaper for the past several months. And he has no plans to change it.

“I was watching the (2023) draft and I was thinking, ‘I’m fitting to be a junior next year. I’ll be eligible for the draft.’ That’s a dream of mine, so, why not,’” he recently told R1S1 Sports.

The fact that the 2023 draft was held just down the road in Kansas City, Missouri, only made the dream seem closer to reality. So, too, did the fact that some of his close friends were selected in the 2023 draft.

Little league teammate and former Georgia linebacker, Nolan Smith, who grew up with Burroughs in Savannah, was the 30th pick of the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles. A handful of his former KU teammates also have made their way into the NFL, through free agent deals after the draft.

“Just seeing people that you know and played with get drafted, it gives you that feeling of like, ‘Wow, that can be me one day,’” Burroughs said.

If things go well for the 5-foot-10, 185-pound safety who came to KU as a cornerback and switched to safety, that one day could be sooner than later. But Burroughs made sure to point out that his focus is entirely on the 2023 season and building something special at Kansas. The phone gimmick is just for fun.

“It’s just a daily reminder,” he said. “When I wake up, or any time I look at my phone any time of the day, it just reminds me that that’s a goal for me. But it’s a long-term goal. I’m really not trying to get ahead of myself. But just to see that everyday keeps me focused and keeps me grinding and striving to stack days, be consistent and just do whatever I need to help my team to get me closer to that position.”

Winning will go a long way toward making that happen for the 20-year-old Jayhawk. And he’ll have to blaze his own trail to get there. KU has not had a safety drafted since former all-Big 12 standout Darrell Stuckey, now KU’s director of football relations, was selected in the fourth round back in 2010.

While Burroughs would like to be the next one to follow in Stuckey’s footsteps, he hasn’t lost sight of the big picture and his responsibilities at Kansas either.

He appreciates what the program has given him and wants to be sure to provide the same guidance for the younger players at his position who may hope to one day follow his path.

“I think about that every day,” he said. “And it’s kind of nice. But time done flew. I’m really a junior. I feel like I was just a freshman like yesterday.”

The 2024 NFL draft is slated for April 25-27, 2024 in Detroit.

Burrough and the Jayhawks will open the 2023 college football season on Friday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. against Missouri State in Lawrence.

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