Aaron Burbridge was 10 seconds from an awful offseason. His Michigan State team was trailing rival Michigan by two points in October with just a routine punt before certain defeat.
The loss would sting for every Michigan State player, but it would be worse for Burbridge, a senior and a Michigan native.
“I was on the sideline so mad,” Burbridge, the newest 49ers receiver, said Friday. “You know, I’m about to lose to Michigan in my senior year – got to hear it the rest of my life.”
Instead, it’s a game Burbridge will talk about for the rest of his life. The punt was flubbed, and Michigan State recovered and ran the ball into the end zone for a game-ending 27-23 win, the most shocking turn of events of the 2015 season.
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Burbridge had a huge game, leading all receivers with nine catches for 132 yards, one of seven games in which he surpassed the 100-yard mark.
He had 85 catches for 1,258 yards and seven touchdowns, but his big season didn’t translate into a high draft pick. Twenty four receivers were taken before the 49ers selected him at the end of the sixth round, adding him to a deep, but undistinguished, group.
Anquan Boldin, the team’s top receiver the last three years, is a free agent and prefers to join a playoff contender. Boldin often worked out of the slot position, a spot the 49ers’ coaches are eying for Burbridge and Stanford wide receiver Devon Cajuste, who signed as an undrafted free agent.
Burbridge said he played out of the slot as a sophomore at Michigan State and that he and Boldin have some similarities.
“He’s a tough receiver, a big receiver, but not the fastest,” Burbridge said. “He plays big and makes those tough catches. And I feel I can do the same thing.”
As for his college rivals, Burbridge said he did a lot of jawing at the Michigan sideline during that game but not at coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I remember what I said,” Burbridge said with a laugh. “But I can’t repeat it right now.”
Nine signed – The 49ers signed Burbridge and eight other draft picks. The only players who haven’t signed rookie contracts are first-round pick Joshua Garnett, a guard, and third rounder Will Redmond, a cornerback.
To make room on the roster, the 49ers released four veterans: Jordan Devey, who started nine games at right guard last season; kicker Corey Acosta; running back Kendall Gaskins; and quarterback Dylan Thompson.
Undrafted rookies – The 49ers signed 12 undrafted rookies, including two from Stanford (Cajuste and linebacker Kevin Anderson), one from Cal (wide receiver Bryce Treggs), and one from Nevada (Lenny Jones, who is being converted from defensive end to outside linebacker).
Alex Balducci, who played nose tackle on the Oregon defensive line with Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner in 2014, is being converted to the offensive line. The group of undrafted rookies also includes nose tackle Darren Lake from Alabama.