NORMAN — An Oklahoma football player strolled into Room 107 of Mustang Trails Elementary School one morning in January 2001, completely unaware he'd soon provide one wide-eyed third-grader with a glimpse into his future.
Athletes making classroom visits isn't at all uncommon; Sooner, Cowboy and Thunder players can often be found in schools, inspiring students with words emphasizing hard work and perseverance.
Bubba Burcham showed up unannounced at Mustang Trails that day, though, with flowers for a teacher who still felt guilty for missing the biggest, and the last, game of her brother's football-playing career.
Who could have known just how significant that visit would seem in retrospect?
Among Christy King's third-graders that school year was one big kid, who stood about a foot taller than any of his classmates. But on that day, he felt small marveling at the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Burcham, Mustang's first OU football scholarship recipient.
The second? Bronson Irwin, a junior now preparing for his first start on the OU offensive line. The same unit once anchored by the larger-than-life man Irwin met as a star-struck 8-year old.
“You see those guys ... you're so small and they're so massive,” Irwin said, remembering that day.
Funny, because that day for Burcham, the feeling was mutual.
“Just a huge third-grader,” Burcham said with a laugh.
There is photographic evidence to support Burcham's claim: King still holds dear a picture from that day.
Burcham sat, sporting an OU sweatshirt and Orange Bowl cap he'd earned days earlier in a win that made the Sooners national champions.
His sister and her third-graders gathered around him; one boy, his mouth and chin hidden behind Burcham's cap, towered over his classmates.
“It's funny to look at it,” Irwin said of the old photo. “I was the tallest kid in the class. By far.”
Size wasn't the only thing that made Bronson Irwin memorable to Burcham, though.
Jason Bronson, an OU teammate and close friend of Burcham's in the late 1990s, was forced to end his career after suffering several concussions.
When Burcham met Bronson Irwin, he took note of the big kid's first name.
“It just reestablished that name in my head,” Burcham said.
About three years later, he and his wife welcomed their first son, Bronson Burcham.
Irwin grew up a die-hard Sooner fan and attended many of OU's biggest wins during that 2000 title run. He was even accidentally pepper-sprayed in the crazy aftermath of OU's classic 31-14 win over Nebraska.
After discovering Burcham was his teacher's brother, Irwin watched the Sooner center with admiration.
“He was really someone I looked up to,” Irwin said.
And what's not to admire? Burcham walked on at OU after his Mustang High career, earned a scholarship and eventually became as reliable a player as Oklahoma had, delivering snaps to quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Josh Heupel.
Today, Burcham is filled with hometown pride by Irwin, who is the first Mustang player to earn his OU football scholarship right out of high school.
“Mustang has a history of producing some good linemen, but he's really the first guy to sign out of high school with OU,” Burcham said. “To me, that's a big, big deal. As a lineman and a Mustang grad, I'm proud of him.”
After that visit to his sister's third-grade class, Burcham began a coaching and teaching career that led him to his current post at Coweta, where he leads the Class 5A football team.
Through his career journey, though, Burcham stayed in touch with Irwin on occasion, giving advice and providing guidance when warranted.
Burcham remembers speaking at the Mustang football banquet Irwin's senior year, after he'd already committed to OU.
“I talked to him a little about your first year,” Burcham said, “just the little things about how to work hard and get ready to prove yourself.”
Irwin remember his junior season when Burcham came back to give Mustang's pregame chapel speech.
“It's not really frequent,” Irwin said of their contact, “but it's good to know if I need to talk to him about something, I can just give him a call.
“He has a lot of good advice for me.”
The serendipitous friendship began with Irwin's football-playing career in its infancy and Burcham's days removed from its grand finale, which is why he brought his guilt-ridden sister flowers.
King had missed the Orange Bowl, the only game Burcham ever played in without his sister in attendance.
Her absence was completely justified; King was nine months pregnant and forbidden by doctors from traveling.
That didn't make her feel any less guilty. She even sent her husband to South Beach, hoping her good mojo was transferrable.
Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't. The Sooners dominated Florida State, 13-2, to win their seventh national title, and Burcham's snaps were, as usual, spot on.
If she had been in the crowd, though, would Burcham have felt compelled to make that surprise visit? Would he have ever met Bronson Irwin? Would his son be called by a different name today?
“It's just funny how they had that little relationship back in third grade, and now Bronson is starting for OU,” said King, who still keeps in touch with Irwin.
“What are the odds?”