By: Ken LaVicka
Football is full of “rags-to-riches” stories. Young men who come from nothing and overcome poverty to fulfill their pigskin dreams.
Matt Burke's story is not one of those.
The Cardinal Newman tight end's tale isn't a tear-jerker. In fact, it's fairly ordinary. Within that is why Burke's story is one you should know.
Matt is the son of Dave Burke, VP of Sales and Marketing at ultra-posh The Breakers in Palm Beach. He's usually had more than enough resources at his disposal. He's used them to his advantage.
This week Burke earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Game, an opportunity given to just 90 high school seniors across the country. At 6'6”, 210 lbs., he's certainly a winner in the genetic lottery, a towering presence in head coach Steve Walsh's run-first offense.
Burke's most notable offers, for now, are Boise St. and San Diego St. He's still having conversations with Florida and Florida State. But Matt's decision won't come down to just football. He'll be headed to college for the total package, with heavy emphasis on the classroom.
“[I] definitely feel uncertain because I don't know who's going to jump in and jump out,” says Burke, who sports a 3.9 GPA and racked up a 30 on his ACT's. “It's been very hectic this last year. I don't know, I've got two more months and then I've gotta make a final decision. It's definitely going to be the right school when I pick it.”
Burke has upcoming visits to Boise and San Diego, but he's still eyeing schools like North Carolina, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and Duke. He is drawn by the academic prestige. If non-scholarship Harvard gave him the opportunity to play football, he likely wouldn't think twice. He'd be off to Cambridge.
“These schools don't have to worry about a kid who has below average grades,” explains Burke. “You can just say, 'alright this kids fine, get him into the admissions office.'”
A lot of the next few months will involve taking official visits and then playing excruciating games of wait-and-see. Burke is physically-intriguing, had strong junior and senior seasons, but Walsh says there wasn't overwhelming interest in him until he tore up the Miami Dolphins 7-on-7 in June of 2011. Cardinal Newman made a surprising run to the finals in the event, and that finally put Burke on the radar of several prominent scouting services.
Unlike a lot of highly-touted prospects, Burke is low-key. He's well-spoken but doesn't talk more than he has to. After receiving his invite to the U.S. Army game Burke made the media rounds but clearly had his mind on an exam he was scheduled to take the following period.
You get this gist. Burke is big on school. He has a big heart, too.
Burke entered high school with aspirations of playing quarterback. He was preparing to start his Cardinal Newman career, but he decided to move to tight end. Why?
“One of my best friends, he played quarterback. His father was terminally ill with cancer. We were best buds and his dad was a great guy. He passed away, but I was trying to get him to come out for football and I knew the only way I could it is if I transitioned so he could be play. He was a great kid. [He] decided to not end up playing but I thrived at tight end. It worked out.”
Burke wouldn't have handled the tough decision any other way.
“His dad was a huge influence in my life for two or three years before he passed away,” Burke says, thoughtfully.
“It was very sad. His dad really wanted us to have him come out. I was like 'I'll do anything to get him to come out. Get him to workouts. Get him to practice.' I switched positions, I really wanted him to come out. He had a very tough time dealing with it. I'm still friends with him. It's OK he didn't come out. I still love him to death and I'll always be there for him.”
Burke is not the prototypical soon-to-be college football blue-chipper. He loves football, but it doesn't define him. He understands the importance of going to college as much for the grades as he will for the gridiron. He's been afforded opportunities and he's done his best to make the most of them.
Matt Burke's story won't be a screenplay any time soon, but it will surely be a blueprint on how to maximize one's abilities with determination, work ethic, and an ability to treat people the right way.