By Matt Goisman
SAVANNA — Savanna quarterback Seth Burke got his first varsity start as a sophomore in last year’s season-opener against Konawa. He called it “nerve-wracking,” but he not only survived that first year but thrived as well, helping the Bulldogs win their first district title in 50 years.
“We were listening to the Talihina/Gore game to see who won on the way home,” Burke said Friday. “We were at Central Sallisaw. A bunch of us rode home with our parents, but we met up, and then we had a little more fun the next day.”
Burke’s back under center this year, and he’s ready to repeat as district champion.
“I felt a little bit more confident at my position,” Burke said of this season. “I felt like I understood it a little better, could lead my team a little better.
“I like our receivers. They play the game really well.”
Even before the season started Savanna coach James Bond saw something different in Burke. Burke looked bigger, stronger, more in command.
“It’s been fun watching him grow up, because he was just a chunky kid with glasses,” Bond said. “Now, he’s turned into quite an athlete and a good kid.”
Burke credited that to his offseason training, which included lifting weights three times a week, running numerous 40-yard sprints and getting extra exercise as a hay-bailer with his father, Scott Burke.
“I’d get up about 6 a.m., go bail hay,” Burke said. “Then I’d come home and me and a couple buddies would go work out.”
All that extra strength has already paid off for Burke, who had a terrific game Friday against Beggs JV. Only needing the first half to put the game away, Burke threw for three touchdown passes — all to Josh Holloway — and helped the Bulldogs win, 38-14.
“We’re predominantly a run team, but I’d have to say that today was probably one of my better passing games,” Burke said. “We’ve been practicing the pass more.
“You hit that first (completion), you feel a little more confident in what you’re doing. It kind of sets an up tempo.”
Burke’s football days date back to the third grade. He played fullback or running back in both grade school and junior high, not switching to quarterback until his freshman year at Savanna.
Burke said he’s grown to like playing quarterback, “being in control, trying to lead the team, keeping everything positive.” He added that the passing game the Bulldogs have tried to add this year has been more challenging than the running game.
“Passing comes with a little bit more maturity and a little bit more playing the position, being able to read coverages and find the open receiver,” Burke said.
Though his favorite team is the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Burke said he’s tried to model his quarterback style on Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in my opinion,” Burke said.
Also the Bulldogs’ “dog” linebacker, Burke has to both stop the run and help out in the secondary. Burke said each position helps him play the other better.
As a quarterback, Burke knows where other quarterbacks like to go, so he can position himself better to make the play on defense. And as a linebacker, he knows which gaps or receivers linebackers are more likely to focus on, and he can throw elsewhere.
Burke said he’s always enjoyed playing defense, dating back to his first days of football.
“Back then, that’s all you played for in Little League, was just to try to kill somebody, try to take somebody’s head off,” Burke said.
When he’s not playing football, Burke also plays shortstop and pitches for Savanna’s baseball team. He also competes in rodeos, hunts and fishes.
But football is still his first love.
“I’ve grown up playing football my entire life,” Burke said. “Dad was a big football guy, so it’s just kind of in the family.”
Still a year away from graduating, Burke said he plans to go to college, either with or without a football scholarship. A fan of the chemistry class he’s currently taking, he said he might want to study chemical engineering.
Burke said his family has always supported him, his father coming to every game. He also called the Bulldogs “a big family,” and as he was being interviewed for this story after the Beggs game, many of his teammates stopped by to congratulate him.
“Wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Burke said of teammates. “I couldn’t play with anybody else.”
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.