Paul Johnson gives respect to Tech center Freddie Burden

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Ermon Lane #1 of the Florida State Seminoles greets Freddie Burden #58 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at midfield before the game in an ACC sportsmanship initiative at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Georgia Tech center Freddie Burden shakes hands with Florida State wide receiver Ermon Lane prior to the teams’ game this past October. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Georgia Tech center Freddie Burden’s junior season did not match his standout play as a sophomore in 2014, but he nonetheless earned respect from coach Paul Johnson.

Burden played through an unspecified injury that required surgery and will cause him to sit out spring practice. More notably, Burden played the season, starting all 12 games, while his father was awaiting a heart transplant at Piedmont Hospital.

Willie Burden died Dec. 4 of last year, still waiting for a transplant. He was 64. A former N.C. State football star and a member of the Canadian Football League hall of fame, Willie Burden later taught as an associate professor in sports management at Georgia Southern.

During the season, Burden and his brother Willie Jr., an academic coordinator at Tech, visited him daily after practice, often staying for three hours.

“He had a lot of stuff going on off the field that I’m not sure I could have handled,” Johnson said Monday. “So hopefully he’s going to come back and have a great senior year. My hat’s off to him for fighting through and playing. Most kids couldn’t have played.”

Burden has distinguished himself with his perseverance. He also played the 2014 season with an injured thumb that also required surgery.

In the spring of 2015, Burden said it was painful, “but, hey, it was kind of in the middle of the season. You’ve got to go with the team. It’s all in or all out.”

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