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Agent 0: A Student Athlete Role Model

by Adonis Jones

At one point, Nicholas Burgess did not know if he would play football again. Now, he has become the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) player of the year.

Standing 6’0″ and 220 pounds, Burgess’ journey began at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, NY, where he earned recognition as an All-Conference player on defense and participated in the All-State game.

Despite initially committing to play football at SUNY Cortland, a division III school in Upstate New York, Burgess always had a dream of attending a Historically Black College (HBCU). This aspiration led him to decommit from SUNY Cortland and enroll at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Burgess never set foot on the Morgan State campus, shifting his focus to academics.

“I committed to SUNY Cortland but decided to attend Morgan State because it was my dream to go to an HBCU,” Burgess explained. “Unable to get on campus because of COVID, I decided to focus on my grades and earned a 4.0 GPA after my freshman year.”

Burgess being named Agent Zero in front of the team. Matt Deluca | The Montclarion

Burgess being named Agent Zero in front of the team. Matt Deluca | The Montclarion

Following his freshman year, Burgess decided to transfer to Montclair State University in the fall of 2021, a move that was an ideal fit for him both in terms of location and cost. Although Burgess did not have a roster spot, he took the initiative to send tape footage and reach out to current head coach Mike Palazzo about any availability on the roster. After watching his tape and seeing the talent that Burgess possessed, he decided he had to find a spot for Burgess.

“We did not recruit Nick; he showed up here,” Palazzo acknowledged. “We do not recruit a lot of kids outside of Jersey. Nick reached out to me, I watched his high school film, and we were able to get him in before we started camp and were pretty excited.”

After a year away from the gridiron, Burgess was quoted by Palazzo to, “still be getting his legs underneath him.” However, Palazzo noticed a major change to Burgess’ game and demeanor during the spring practice of 2022.

“He was in much better shape, more confident in his abilities and the defense, and really stepped into his role as middle linebacker,” Palazzo said.

These improvements set the foundation for an outstanding junior season where Burgess gained recognition as one of the best players in the NJAC. His accolades included being named first-team All-NJAC, with 94 tackles, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks in just ten games.

Burgess’ stellar play spoke for itself, and he was seen by his coaches and teammates as a leader on the team, as well as a positive role model. For those reasons, Burgess soon became a suitable candidate to be a team captain.

Burgess celebrating a pic six against The College of New Jersey. Matt Deluca | The Montclarion

Burgess celebrating a pic six against The College of New Jersey. Matt Deluca | The Montclarion

“I always wanted to become a captain. I did not get the opportunity to become captain in high school, so being able to prove myself as a leader here at Montclair State meant a lot to me,” Burgess said. “I wanted to be able to lead, I wanted to be able to lead my team to our ultimate goal and wanted guys to look up to me as a role model.”

He followed up his standout year with an even better season the next year, becoming NJAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2023. This prestigious feat has only been accomplished by nine other Red Hawks since the team joined the NJAC conference in 1957. With 101 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery and an interception for a touchdown, he solidified his status as a premier player in the conference.

Despite all the impressive accomplishments and accolades on the field, he has proven to be much more than just a football player.

Burgess is also pursuing a master’s in management through Montclair State’s 4+1 program and is an intern at Morgan Stanley, a highly prestigious wealth management program. His ability to secure this internship through the “Higher Red Hawk” platform reflects the strong connections he has built during his time at Montclair State.

“[Montclair State cares] a lot about the students. I got my internship through a platform called ‘Higher Red Hawk’ which is now referred to as ‘Handshake’,” Burgess acknowledged. “I interviewed with a Montclair State alumnus and was able to get the internship.”

Burgess also gave acknowledgment to coach Palazzo’s willingness to bring in former players to talk to him and his teammates.

“Coach Palazzo does a great job of bringing in former players, former captains, that give us great insight and motivate us to have that Red Hawk pride to chase our goals,” Burgess stated.

As a student-athlete, team captain and intern at a prestigious financial institution, Burgess has a very rigorous day-to-day lifestyle. Burgess credits the support of his family, teammates and coaches with keeping him motivated and focused on chasing his goals.

“My family is my foundation, providing me with the necessary tools I need to be successful,” Burgess said. “I lean on my captains, teammates and coaches as they motivate me to have that Red Hawk pride and chase my goals.”

Fellow team captain Mason Murdock, who is a year younger than Burgess, acknowledged Burgess’ leadership on and off the field.

“Nick has high academic standards and work ethic,” Murdock said. “He is very interpersonal, has great character and maintains a positive attitude all the time which reflects well for the rest of the guys on the team.”

Looking ahead, Burgess remains ambitious, aiming for a championship in the upcoming season and aspiring to be recognized nationally as an All-American. He emphasizes the importance of believing in oneself and hopes to leave a legacy centered around intentionality working towards a vision for success.

“The biggest thing I want to leave here in terms of legacy is how important it is to believe in yourself,” Burgess said. “I took a risk transferring here at Montclair [State], not knowing anyone, not playing football for an entire year. So, the legacy I want to leave behind is to believe in yourself, have a vision and make sure that everything you do is intentional towards that vision.”

Nicholas Burgess during a post game interview after beating The College of New Jersey at homecoming. Matt Deluca | The Montclarion

Nicholas Burgess during a post game interview after beating The College of New Jersey at homecoming. Matt Deluca | The Montclarion

After his senior season, Burgess will look to play football professionally if the opportunity presents itself. If not, he sees himself going into the corporate world within wealth management and continuing to build his career.

“If the opportunity to play football presents itself, I will definitely take it and run with it,” Burgess explained. “I think I will go to the NJAC pro day when that comes up and will see what opportunities come along.”

He also highlighted the flexibility that Morgan Stanley gives him to explore the option of playing football, while leaving the door open for him to work at the company.

“My firm at Paramus is very lenient with me,” Burgess said. “They understand I play football and am doing well with school, so they give me that grace to explore the opportunity of playing football while still having an opportunity with them.”

Burgess’ ability to balance being an NJAC player of the year and an intern at one of the top financial institutions in the world is a testament to his hard work and dedication. Without a doubt, he has left an enduring impact on Montclair State and is an inspiration for others.

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