When Ray Burse, Jr. attended St. Xavier's prep school in Lexington, Ky., he made a major position change to benefit his team. The full-time goalkeeper for the Kentucky Olympic Development Program, Burse was called upon to play forward for Tigers, and as a senior was rewarded for his work as an offensive player.
Imagine the surprise of Ohio State men's soccer coach John Bluem when he attended the high school All-America banquet in the fall of 2001.
"During Ray's senior year in high school, I attended the All-America banquet with (Ohio State senior) Kevin Nugent and his family, and as Kevin returned to the table after receiving his award, he said he'd met another player who was coming to Ohio State," said Bluem. "I had recruited Ray as a goalkeeper, so I got out the program and started looking under goalkeepers. It turns out Ray made All-America in high school as a forward."
Of his accolades, Burse said, "it was really kind of ironic because I really only played the position to help my team out. I had no expectations of becoming an All-American, or being named Kentucky's Player of Year that year. It all just happened."
Despite his success scoring points in high school, Ray had plans to continue his career as a goalkeeper at the college level. "I felt like I had the most potential in that position," he said, "so it was really a hands-down decision."
His decision has certainly taken him places since then. He made up his mind that he was going to earn the starting position at Ohio State, and did so as a sophomore. "You always want to be the one to play, and I had that mindset as soon as I came in. I knew that a returning starter was going to be an obstacle I would have to overcome," said Burse. "I knew I was going to do everything in my power to obtain that starting spot."
Bluem said that the decision for Burse to become the starter wasn't difficult, "he just proved to be better."
In the spring of his sophomore year, the Buckeyes played Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew in the Connor Senn Memorial exhibition match, and Burse caught the attention of the Crew coaches. "After the game, their assistant coaches talked to our assistant coaches and asked if I would train with them for the summer."
One opportunity led to another, and before he knew it, Ray was training with the U.S. National team while they were in Columbus preparing for a World Cup qualifier in the summer of 2004.
"It was definitely a humbling experience," said the Buckeye co-captain. "I look up to players like Kasey Keller, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, so to be on the field with them was kind of astonishing at first. But I knew I was there to perform, so I couldn't be caught in awe too much."
These opportunities came quickly for someone who was training full-time as a goalkeeper for the first time in his life. Burse said the differences in training have been mostly mental. "When you play forward, you're going to miss a scoring opportunity here and there," he said. "But when you're playing `keeper, if you make one mistake your team could be down a goal. There is no room for mistakes."
In 2004 Burse earned second team All-Big Ten honors for his net-minding and led Ohio State to a share of the Big Ten regular season title. This year he hopes individual success will translate into a Big Ten Championship, and further success in the NCAA tournament.
"I just need to come out every day and work as hard as I can to make sure I don't have any off days," he said of his role in the team's quest.
"The goals we have in place are team-oriented," said Bluem of his Buckeyes. "But we want to be successful as a team because that will help our individual players achieve what they can individually. We hope that Ray enjoys an outstanding senior year, and statistically has a good season. We believe that he has the potential to be a draft choice in the MLS in January."