He was the top player in the state as a senior at Farmington Hills Harrison and played as a true freshman for the Spartans in 2012, even producing an eight-catch, 134-yard game in a victory over Indiana.
But nagging injuries and the emergence of Tony Lippett and others the past two seasons had Burbridge playing nothing more than a supporting role. He was a player with unlimited potential, but had yet to reach that potential.
It appears those days are over.
Burbridge caught eight passes for a career-high 156 yards and three touchdowns, also a career-best, in Saturday’s 35-21 victory over Air Force. It was the third straight game Burbridge went over the 100-yard mark after doing so against Western Michigan and Oregon.
“I’ve always thought Aaron Burbridge is an outstanding receiver, and we’ve had a lot of good receivers here,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “What he does is he gets those 50-50 catches, those difficult catches, those acrobatic catches. People are hanging on to him and he’s making the play. Great game, and big plays.”
The most impressive was his 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Spartans a 21-7 lead. It was first called incomplete but replays showed Burbridge got his foot down while making the grab and falling out of bounds.
“Amazing,” quarterback Connor Cook said. “I tried to put it outside in a safe spot where only he could get it and to see him go up and reach back and to still keep his foot in bounds — an awesome catch.”
Burbridge, who said he hasn’t had three touchdowns in a game since he played junior varsity at Harrison, was more matter-of-fact about the play.
“I did make a catch but I don’t think it was too spectacular,” he said. “I had to make the play, I went up for it. It landed in my hand. I knew I was in. I ran my route, he sent the ball in there late, so I’m just running. Then my hands were out and I caught it and tried to get a foot down. Then I’m watching it on the replay and I stood up and put my hands up.”
It wasn’t just that play. Burbridge was a thorn in the Falcons’ side all game.
With the Air Force defense taking chances at the line of scrimmage, it opened things up for the passing game.
“They were in man coverage a lot of those times that they were blitzing,” co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “Some of them were all-out blitzes. Granted, it gave him a little bit more room than he might have had.”
He took advantage, adding a 32-yard touchdown later in the second quarter and a 21-yarder in the third.
“He’s the top receiver in the nation, one of the top,” Air Force cornerback Roland Ladipo said. “He got the best of me sometimes and you just have to move on to next week and learn from it. Top players make those plays sometimes. … I thought I had a pretty good press coverage on him, but he made the play.”