From the age of 10 on through middle school, Ryan Burrell patrolled the sidelines of the Delran boys soccer field as a ball boy. He watched in awe as the Bears won games, lifted championship trophies and played before hundreds of screaming, faithful fans.
In 2016, Burrell left the sideline and stepped onto the field at Delran as a player for the first time. He would be a part of three sectional championship teams in each of his first three seasons.
“Every single time I got it, it felt better,” Burrell said of the sectional titles.
On Nov. 8, Burrell, now a senior captain for the Bears, played on his home field for the final time in the South Jersey Group 2 championship against Oakcrest. The kid who once looked up to the players clad in brown and gold was now starring in one of the biggest games of the year. In front of a packed crowd on a cold early November afternoon, Burrell recorded a goal and two assists as the Bears downed Oakcrest, 3-0, for a fifth straight sectional title.
“It was so fun,” Burrell said. “There was probably about 100 students here and they’re all cheering and saying your name. It was just so fun to know they’re all behind your back and knowing your playing for such a great town.”
For years, Burrell dreamed of making his mark on Delran’s storied legacy in boys soccer. His dream came true in 2019, as Burrell emerged as one of South Jersey’s top offensive players. Burrell finished the year with a team-leading 19 goals and 11 assists and helped Delran to its first state championship game since 2013. Burrell’s breakout season makes him the South Jersey Sports Weekly Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“He got all of the young guys better,” head coach Mike Otto said. “If I could say anything about him as a leader, and really all of the captains, is that they did get the younger kids on board and better as the season progressed. There’s absolutely no way we could have gone as far as we did or been as successful as we were without Ryan Burrell’s leadership.”
Burrell’s statistical breakout can be attributed to a change in position. In 2018, Burrell scored five goals playing at midfield for the Bears. This season, Burrell shifted to forward, a change he was excited about.
“I knew I was pretty much set,” Burrell said. “I love playing striker, I love playing up top. I knew our midfielders and the outside players really well. We had such good chemistry and we knew the runs we were making at all times. All I had to do was look up and the ball was at my foot.”
It took only five games for Burrell to eclipse his previous season’s total in goals. He reached the 10-goal plateau before the calendar flipped to October and would end up scoring in 15 of Delran’s 24 games.
“I thought he was real composed around the net,” Otto said. “He was used to playing out in the midfield for the first couple of years. It was a big change for him. He was a little banged up at the beginning of the year, so I moved him up front to help him not move around so much and look what happened. He turned into one of South Jersey’s best snipers.”
As potent as Burrell was on offense, Otto believes the senior’s greatest strengths cannot be measured through statistics.
“What separates Ryan Burrell is his ability to see the game quicker, make decisions faster, play balls that not everybody sees,” Otto said. “It’s a makeup of all those things and being comfortable on the ball to make that happen.”
Burrell attributed his high soccer IQ to his love for the game. Burrell picked up the sport at the age of 3 and has been obsessed with it ever since.
Ryan Burrell fires this over in the 67th in a great chance to put Delran ahead. Still 1-1 with Delbarton. pic.twitter.com/TxJaSySVdN
— Brian Deakyne (@BrianDeakyne) October 10, 2019
“I love the game,” Burrell said. “I watch it every Saturday morning when the Premier League is on. Me and my dad just talk about soccer 24/7. It’s pretty much our conversation at home.”
Burrell was one of several senior leaders who helped Delran get over the hump after four straight losses in the Group 2 state semifinals from 2015 to 2018. Burrell assisted on one of Frankie Taylor’s two goals in a 2-0 win over Rahway, sending Delran to the state final. Though Delran came up short in a 2-0 loss to Bernards in the Group 2 state championship, the lasting memory Burrell has of that final game is seeing the students who made the drive up to Kean University cheer on the Bears and the amount of support he received from former players leading up to the game. Burrell believes that family-like bond makes Delran boys soccer a special program to be a part of. And even though he’s graduating, Burrell plans to be a part of the Delran boys soccer family for many years to come.
“Once you join this family, you can’t leave,” he said.