Posted: 4:29 pm Friday, January 4th, 2013
By Jeff Greer
Matt Burke woke up in late November to a text message from Cardinal Newman head coach Steve Walsh. He read it and proceeded with his day.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound tight end worked out. He chatted with friends. He went to class.
And then he realized how important Walsh’s text actually was.
Burke had been invited to the most prestigious high school football All-American game in America, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, which kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast live on NBC.
“I’d watched in the past and heard of it before, but my friends all knew it was a big deal,” said Burke, the No. 10 prospect on the Big Board. “I didn’t know it was an entire week of events.”
Since arriving in Texas, Burke’s experienced the full roller coaster that comes with the event. He’s met military personnel, attended a barbecue and even saw rapper Wale in concert. Thursday night he snapped a photo with Michael Irvin.
His parents arrived Thursday, along with Walsh. Three of Burke’s closest friends, and Burke’s older brother, will also be there.
To sweeten the deal, Burke’s starting at tight end for the East team. For a senior hoping to add to an offer list that includes Boise State, Harvard, Marshall, Massachusetts and San Diego State, Saturday’s game could be a breakthrough for his recruiting process.
Burke would like to hear from a few more schools, and specifically listed Virginia in a Thursday interview and tweeted about visiting Purdue earlier this week.
Yet this week the focus is blocking and proving he can play with the elite level of competition in San Antonio. American Heritage running back Greg Bryant, one of the nation’s top prospects who has verbally committed to Notre Dame, is there. So is Atlantic defensive tackle Keith Bryant, who’s picking between Miami, Florida State and South Carolina.
In two-a-days on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, Burke felt solid enough as a blocker, his main area of concern with recruiters, and said he’s gained confidence as the week’s progressed.
“The competition is far superior to anything you play during the season — unless you play University every week,” Burke said. ”I’m working on my blocking. If you catch a ball on these kids or get a nice block, it feels good. You don’t realize how tough it is until you get here.”
For a kid who only started playing tackle football as a high school freshman — and was a 150-pound quarterback, no less — it’s been a bit of a ride to get to San Antonio. A major growth spurt and a long, hard push to get better has Burke in prime position to pick up some more scholarship offers.
Not a bad boon for a game he didn’t really grasp a few months ago.
“I couldn’t believe it, really,” Burke said, laughing. “It’s been a journey. But I have to be humble and work hard and get better. That’s it.”