Prescott Burgess’ first game as a Michigan Wolverine is almost seven months away. That date seems further away for his mom, Leslie, than anyone else. A year ago, Leslie Burgess became ill and no one knew how to cure her. A year later, nothing has changed. During a three-month stay in the hospital, doctors discovered that Leslie has a rare illness called Castleman’s Disease, which is normally characterized by the growth of non-cancerous lymph nodes. The doctors don’t know how Leslie contracted the disease, how to rid her body of the disease and most importantly, if the disease will prove to be fatal. So when asked how many games she will attend at the Big House next season, Leslie responded: “As many as God allows me to get to.”

Even in the event she can’t make it to Michigan Stadium, there is no doubt she will be watching her son play.

“Regardless of what is going on in the world, with me or without me (physically), I am always with (Prescott),” Leslie said.

Burgess is confident his mother will be at the opener and is expecting her presence to lift his game like always.

“I love it when my family comes to watch me,” Burgess said. “It makes me play better. Most people it makes nervous, but for me it makes me play better than I usually do.”

Since his mother contracted the disease, Burgess has lived with two different relatives in Warren, Ohio and infuriated recruiters that couldn’t find him. With all the drama in Burgess’ life, Warren High School coaches have noticed his difficulty focusing on football.

Work ethic “is an area that could improve,” Harding coach Thom McDaniels said. “He’s been shuffled from place to place to place. He has a home situation that is not a great one, that is reflected in lack of a better work ethic.”

Burgess admits that his mother’s illness has been hard on him and creeps into his mind during games. As if he wasn’t going through enough off the field, Burgess also missed six games during his senior season because of a nerve injury in his shoulder. He said he is now “back to 100 percent.”

Despite adversity on and off the field, Burgess is still one of the top recruits in the country after a junior year in which he recorded more than 100 tackles. Rivals.com ranks him as the top safety and the sixth-best recruit in the country. ESPN’s Tom Lemming ranks him as the second-best safety in the country and the No. 16 recruit overall. Lemming also selected Burgess to his “Super Team,” equivalent to an All-America team, with fellow safety and Michigan recruit Ryan Mundy. Both Burgess and Mundy were also selected to the U.S. Army All-America game a month ago on ESPN2, where Burgess announced his commitment to Michigan by pulling a block ‘M’ hat out of his duffle bag on the sideline.

According to his coaches, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder is a very physical player that is especially strong in run support. His safeties coach, John Arlesic, even compared him to former Denver Broncos safety Steve Atwater and Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher because all three have a “nose for the ball.”

The comparison might seem odd because Urlacher and Burgess don’t even play the same position, but they soon might. McDaniels said he believes Burgess can become big enough and strong enough to eventually play linebacker at Michigan. Burgess could be more suited to play linebacker at the college level instead of safety: his run support is the strongest part of Burgess’ game, and McDaniels said Burgess’ pass coverage is suspect, despite his 4.55 40-yard dash speed.

Although coach Lloyd Carr can’t comment on recruits until signing day Wednesday, it wouldn’t be the first time he moved a safety to linebacker. He did the same with former Wolverine and 2001 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Larry Foote.

“I’m planning on playing safety, but if I have to play linebacker, I will,” Burgess said.

Burgess makes his presence felt on the field, but not in the locker room. Coaches said Burgess has a quiet personality off the field. Arlesic described him as a “quiet storm” and a player that leads by example.

“Outside of football, I am (quiet). But during football, I am a maniac,” Burgess said.

Now that the football season is over, Burgess is on a weight-lifting program to get prepared for major college football. But without his coaches there to push him anymore, Burgess’ work ethic will be tested.

“We have a program and facility where he can get as strong as he wants to be and prepared as he wants to be,” McDaniels said.

Arlesic said a challenge for Burgess will be to “work extra hard because he is not going to be the best player (in college).”

Burgess said he embraces the challenge Big Ten football poses and is prepared to move to Ann Arbor during the summer to work out before practices start. One person that will be excited to see Burgess here early besides Carr is linebacker Carl Diggs, who also went to Harding. Although they never played together in high school, Diggs and Burgess have formed a friendship the last couple of years and look forward to being teammates next year. Diggs said that as much as he wanted Burgess to come to Michigan, he didn’t pressure the recruit into the decision.

“I talked to him about coming to Michigan, but I talked more about making the right decision,” Diggs said.

Diggs might be the only person besides Burgess’ parents and coaches who didn’t put pressure on him. Growing up just five blocks away from the Ohio State campus before moving to Warren in ninth grade, Burgess always wanted to be a Buckeye and just recently converted to a Michigan fan. He also knows a lot of people that wanted nothing more than for Burgess to choose Ohio State, as fellow Harding alum Maurice Clarett did just last year.

“There was definitely a lot of pressure and still is,” Burgess said about the decision. But Burgess insists he didn’t let other people influence his decision. In fact, despite holding off on the announcement until last month, he made up his mind rather quickly and has known since the fall that he wanted to attend Michigan.

After all, he had more important things to think about.

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