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From the Field to the Screen: former Raiders linebacker Miles Burris has discovered a newfound passion

Oakland Raiders linebacker Miles Burris in action during an NFL game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 in Denver. The Broncos won the game, 37-6. (AP Photo/Ric Tapia)

Ever since he was in fifth grade, Miles Burris’ passion has been football.

The first moment he put pads on at age 10, he ran home to tell his mom and dad that he wanted to become an NFL player; that was his goal, and years later he achieved it.

The former San Diego State Aztec was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and during the linebacker’s three seasons with the Silver and Black, Burris totaled five passes defensed, 210 tackles, one-and-a-half sacks, one interception, and one fumble recovery, but suffered a handful of injuries that would play a role in his NFL aspirations going forward.

Following his stint with the Raiders, Burris worked out for the New York Jets, and the Minnesota Vikings, but eventually realized the injuries he endured wouldn’t allow him to play at the level he once was capable of, and that was a harsh reality for him to face.

“It was a tough pill to swallow because I felt like I was supposed to keep playing, and I was scared to tell my wife about it,” Burris recalled. “It was a really dark time for me. She handled it fine, and at home I was depressed because I’d played football since fifth grade. I thought I was supposed to come back and play for a bunch of years, and it’s like, now what?”

The Orangevale, Calif., native considers himself a perfectionist, and the realization that his football dreams would be coming to an end sooner than expected was a painful one. Burris dreamt of becoming a perennial Pro Bowler, and full-time starter in the league, but life had other plans, leaving him to feel like he fell short.

As doubt and grief started to creep in, Burris’ wife, Jenna, threw out an idea the two had considered for quite some time, and she thought it was time to put words into action.

“[My wife] let me mope on the couch for a day and then she told me to get up,” Burris explained. "‘We’ve talked about this acting thing for so long, we’re going to get you into classes.’”

Whether it’s NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis, or NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, many former athletes make the transition from the field/court to the broadcast booth; however, Burris wanted to take a different path.

The aspiring actor wanted to get his foot in the television industry, but he wanted to do it his own way, without leveraging the fact he was a former professional athlete.

“[My wife] took headshots of me with her iPhone, which is hilarious,” Burris said with a chuckle. “We got set up on this self-submission site for acting, and it was just like this super fluke thing where this great role came that I submitted on and got in on with no representation. It was my very first audition and I booked a guest star on this big budget pilot, and got a real taste of what it was like to act.”

Burris was fortunate enough to land a role after his first audition, which came as a bit of a shock to the former football player, considering it was his first time giving his new profession a shot.

“I had some reservations because I wanted to try [acting] and give it a shot, but I had no idea if I would even be good at it. I’ve never had a job acting or been on set before, and I get there, and it was just like my first day in pads in fifth grade,” he said. “I called my wife on set, ‘This is it! I love this!’ It was the same thing [I felt in fifth grade], it was so cool, and acting really rescued that passion. My biggest fear leaving football was that I’d never have a passion like that again vocationally, and acting kind of rescued that.”

Finally at peace with his decision to leave football behind him, Burris has continued to pursue his acting career with the same passion he had as a kid eager to play on the gridiron. Going from delivering booming hits, to standing in front of a camera reciting lines no doubt takes different skills, but it’s an adjustment Burris is attacking head on.

“[Practicing] was something that was hard for me to figure out in the beginning,” he stated. “I would watch a lot of actors and see how they were training. How do you kind of hit the gym every day, so to speak? In football it’s easy because you hit the field and do your positional work, speed work, you get in the film room and study your opponents.

“That’s all easy and very measurable every day, and for acting it’s like what do I do other than go on auditions and wait for my next acting class? I kind of schedule my days down to the half hour, so I’ll break down a different scene off the internet, or break down different monologues and put myself on tape to try and continue to practice.”

Practice seems to be paying off for him.

Burris is slated to appear in a couple of shows this month, starting tonight on CBS, appearing in the ER drama Code Black. He can also be seen in TV Land’s sitcom Teachers. The roles themselves are quite different, which Burris notes as a good demonstration of his range.

Early into his acting career, Burris is confident this is what he was destined to do, and similar to football, he’s already placed lofty goals for himself.

“I think my natural inclination would be to be in the movie industry, but the way TV is going right now it really is the best time that there ever has been for TV,” Burris said. “There’s so many different platforms, there’s so many different shows, and they’re doing a lot of those really cool mini-series, so I’d love to do a blend of both.”

Life leads each of us down mysterious paths; we often don’t understand them in the moment, but sometimes it leads to opportunities and situations better than the ones we were in originally.

The conclusion of Burris’ football career was understandably a dark time for him, but it ultimately opened the door for his next chapter.

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