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.
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