Football Sports

Junior looking to step out of Burrell family shadow, continue legacy

An accomplished athlete, Josh Burrell chose football over track & field to pave a legacy separate from that of his father and brother. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Leaving a legacy is the ultimate goal for any person competing in Division I collegiate athletics. That task is exponentially harder as a second-generation athlete.

Junior running back Josh Burrell’s task is even harder: His father and older brother are two of the best athletes ever to pass through the University.

His father Leroy Burrell, the head track & field coach, was an NCAA champion with the Cougars and later won an Olympic gold medal. His older brother, senior Cameron Burrell, is one of the top sprinters in the country. Josh’s story is the trial of stepping out of that shadow to become his own person.

“I feel like I have expectations to live up to,” Josh said when asked if he feels internal pressure to perform at a high level. “I’m the type of person that when people set something up for me, or they say I can’t do something, my attitude is ‘Whatever you said I can’t do — I’m going to go do it.’”

Growing up, Josh was a chubby kid, so he drifted toward football, he said, and never viewed himself as a sprinter. But he did also play soccer, basketball and baseball as an adolescent and, later, while attending Ridge Point High School.

Josh said his parents never pressured him to compete in track & field despite the fact they are both Olympic gold medalists in the sport. Leroy Burrell said he has always tried to encourage his sons to do what they like and that doing otherwise is a recipe for disaster.

One in the family

Despite encouragement to pursue other sports, Josh did compete in track & field, showcasing a different quality of the family athleticism as he ran in the 100m and 4x100m relay while also throwing the discus and the shot put, something Cameron Burrell said very few people can do.

“It’s kind of funny,” Leroy Burrell said. “Josh, his sophomore year, qualified for the finals at regionals. And of course Cameron was in the finals as well. (So) it was actually pretty exciting to see them both on the track together. But I felt all along just because of Josh’s body type he’d probably end up doing something else.”

One thing that helped end Josh’s days as a sprinter was an injury to his medial collateral ligament, or MCL. The recovery time made him gain weight, so he decided to focus on the discus and the shot put. Josh ended up qualifying for the UIL 4A State Championships in both events his senior year, taking silver in the discus.

His path to the University of Houston was not a straight one. For his junior year of high school, he went to the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island with the intention of going on to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. But that next summer, he came home and made the decision to attend UH and play football.

Second generation Cougars

In the three years Josh has been at UH, he’s seen his brother Cameron become one of the spearheads behind the track & field team’s national championship run.

His freshman year, Cameron had already broken the school 60m record. He would go on to break that record and break the school 100m record, which was owned by their dad and helped anchor the men’s 4x100m relay team to a national championship.

Josh competed once for UH in the discus and did poorly, but the recent success of the team has not dampened his spirits.

“It’s definitely something that I’ve been proud to watch my father and brother do,” Josh said. “It’s great for my family. It’s something I love to watch and I feel like I’m a part of it every day.”

As for Josh, he has appeared in 19 games in two years with the football team. After redshirting in 2015, he has seen the majority of his playing time come on special teams, scoring one touchdown in 2016.

He was kept out of the Red & White Game due to a hamstring injury, so it is unclear how he will be used in the upcoming season. But Josh said he is going to make the most of whatever opportunity he gets.

Josh and Cameron are forever linked as brothers, but they have separate dreams and goals. Together their efforts are writing the next page of the Burrell family history at UH.

“To me it means everything,” Josh said. “I’ve kind of been the one that’s always in the shadows. Nobody’s ever really known who I am. I’ve always been Cameron’s brother or Leroy’s son, so I’m looking forward to being who I am.”

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