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This feature story is from the April 2006 issue of the Pack Pride Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, click on the link below ...

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    Just-In Time
    After Shattering Records And Winning A State Title In Kentucky, Pack QB Signee Justin Burke Is Ready To Take Raleigh By Storm

    Pack Pride Magazine
    April 2006
    WORDS: Scott Vogelsberg
    PHOTOS: Mark Cornelison

    e was referred to in a long piece in the local newspaper as "The Brain." Any discussion of his style of play contains the words "cerebral" and "intelligent." He's been called a "student of the game" and even "the ultimate thinking man's QB."

    But hey, let's not forget—Justin Burke actually throws a pretty fair football as well. Far from an athletically challenged player who gets by on outsmarting opponents, Burke is a 6-2, 195-pound signal-caller with the footwork and arm strength necessary to supplement his knowledge of the game. A 4.0 grade-point average, 27-inch vertical leap and 4.9-second speed in the 40-yard dash prove how well-rounded the youngster is. The Lexington Herald-Leader lauded him for his "quick feet, a live arm, great instincts, amazing peripheral vision and an insatiable appetite for competition."

    Burke's former high school coach at Class 3-A Lexington Catholic High School in Lexington, Ky., Bob Sphire has since gone on to become the new coach at 5-A powerhouse North Gwinnett High School in Suwannee, Ga. However, he cut through all the words and descriptions to sum up his star quarterback before he left.

    "[He's] great at play-action, the option game and out-of-pocket spring stuff," Burke told the Herald-Leader. "He's the complete package."

    The complete package. That's what the Wolfpack and coach Chuck Amato have been searching for at the all-important quarterback position ever since Philip Rivers graduated, leaving behind a slew of broken records after scorching the Atlantic Coast Conference for four years. Some feel incumbent starter Marcus Stone has all the physical ability in the world, but lacks the instincts for the position. Others feel that Rivers' immediate successor, Jay Davis, possessed the smarts for the game, but did not have the complete skill set required to shine at the position.

    Observers believe that Burke just may combine the best of the attributes of both players, making Amato's gushing Signing Day comments about Burke completely understandable.

    "Justin Burke is a special person and unbelievable student," said Amato. "We got a great quarterback that we're really pleased to have.

    "That youngster's going to be something else."

    "I heard the word ‘special' the entire fall about him. It's really hard to sum up the kind of season and career that he had for us."

    Burke was certainly something else during a scintillating prep career. He was tabbed as the Gatorade Player of the Year, runner-up Mr. Football, a third-team EA Sports All-American by Student Sports and a first-team all-state pick in Kentucky after guiding Lexington Catholic to the school's first state championship this year. He connected on 61.6 percent (225-365) of his passes for 3,789 yards and 62 touchdowns, with only six interceptions. His scoring tosses set a single-season state record, while his yardage total was 10th-best in Kentucky annals. Burke was also named the Roy Kidd Player of the Year in Class 3-A, an award sponsored by the Kentucky News Network and based on a vote by coaches.

    Showing his versatility, Burke also rushed for 471 yards and seven touchdowns—and averaged 40.3 yards as the team's punter. His streak of 38 straight games with a touchdown pass was second-best in state history, and was snapped only in the state championship game, when he connected on 15 of 27 passes for 221 yards. Lexington Catholic finished the year at 14-1, with a 13-game winning streak, tops in the state.

    "Statistically and leadership-wise, he was just off the charts," Sphire told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "I think he had as fine a career as any quarterback ever in the history of Kentucky and maybe the finest senior season. [The championship] puts an exclamation point on it.

    "I heard the word ‘special' the entire fall about him. It's really hard to sum up the kind of season and career that he had for us."

    While Burke burst onto the national scene as a senior, he had been proving his excellence at Lexington Catholic since his sophomore year. He earned honorable-mention all-state recognition as both a sophomore and junior. He threw for 2,600 yards and 34 touchdowns—with only four picks—as a junior, adding 419 yards and seven scores on the ground.

    Burke ended up with 120 touchdowns against just 17 interceptions at Lexington Catholic, throwing for 8,770 career passing yards on 538 of 879 attempts (61.2 percent). He posted a 34-5 mark as a starter and was tied for second all-time in the state of Kentucky in career scoring throws, trailing only former NFL overall No. 1 pick Tim Couch (by 13). His yardage total wound up seventh-best in Kentucky high school football history.

    Predictably, lofty rankings poured in along with all of the other accolades. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming named Burke the No. 92 overall player in the nation, while considered him the No. 19 quarterback in the land and a three-star prospect. SuperPrep listed him as an All-American, the No. 3 overall player in Kentucky and the No. 12 signal-caller in the country.

    "I think he had as fine a career as any quarterback ever in the history of Kentucky and maybe the finest senior season. [The championship] puts an exclamation point on it."

    With such production, major college programs from all over came calling. Tennessee, Michigan State, Purdue, Kentucky, Louisville, Mississippi, Northwestern and others joined NC State in offering Burke. He eventually trimmed his list to the Wolfpack and Louisville before pledging to State at a press conference at his high school on August 5.

    Even though he just turned 18 this past November, Burke displayed his maturity by actually creating a computer spreadsheet that he used to rank the schools in which he was interested during the recruiting process. He considered factors such as the quarterbacks coach, coaching staff, campus size and academics.

    "To me, academic competition is just as intense as any football game," he told the Herald-Leader. "I've learned from sports how to be dedicated to something, how to work hard toward a goal. I've got the same drive in the classroom."

    Burke cited NC State's engineering program, Centennial Campus and his relationship with Pack offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman among the reasons for his decision. He said he looked at the school and coaches more than depth charts, and discussed the process with his family, including father Greg, who was a punter at Morehead.

    "I chose NC State for multiple reasons," Burke said. "Most importantly, my family and I feel that this school will not only allow me to reach my goals on the field, but as importantly, in the classroom. The rankings of both the school and the football team speak of the high quality of an opportunity that I have been blessed with, and I feel best suits me as a student-athlete.

    "I found out pretty quickly that NC State was the right place for me. I've always felt comfortable there, with the environment and with the people. I'm really looking forward to spending the next four or five years of my life there."

    Sphire noted that Burke and Trestman were almost eerily similar in terms of how cerebral they were and how they approached the importance of academics. Burke is likely to be a nice fit for the West Coast–style offense employed by Trestman and Amato. The addition of a bevy of top-notch receivers in the same recruiting class can't hurt either.

    "I believe that head coach Chuck Amato has put together a stable base for what could be one of the top programs in the nation," said Burke. "He not only recruits great talent, but great coaches. Quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is one of these recruits. He impressed me with his knowledge on the offensive side of the ball, as well as his knowledge of the quarterback position. His experience is extremely impressive."

    "I'm calmest when I'm on the football field. I feel I'm so well-prepared, I'm ready for anything. I've always taken opportunities and run with them. I'm not one to back away from a challenge."

    The Kentucky native cemented his commitment with an official visit to NC State in early December. While most felt that Burke would have had a chance to challenge for starting duties immediately for the Wolfpack if he elected to graduate early and participate in spring drills, Burke decided that playing basketball and enjoying the rest of his senior year was more important, a choice that impressed Amato & Co.

    "He will be part of a basketball team that might have an opportunity to play in the state tournament," Amato said. "That shows what kind of team player he is.

    "Mom and Dad wanted him for another six months, too."

    Burke intends to report to Raleigh at the end of August, then embark on working with Trestman to become a proven winner in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

    "[A quarterback] that will evolve into what they want me to be," said Burke when asked about the type of signal-caller NC State is getting. "I just hope to be a good athlete going in and I'm going to hopefully compete.

    "I'm extremely excited about playing in the ACC. With Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College … [there] are a lot of great programs and a lot of nice places to go. It's going to be one of the best [conferences]—if not the best—in the next couple of years. So that was extremely exciting."

    As he learns the Wolfpack system and adjusts to the higher level of competition he'll face in practice and the rugged ACC, Burke will need to call on the even-keeled demeanor that marked his playing and academic career in high school. That focus, dedication and perseverance will serve him well as he strives to become the Pack's next great signal-caller.

    "I'm calmest when I'm on the football field," he told the newspaper. "I feel I'm so well-prepared, I'm ready for anything. I've always taken opportunities and run with them.

    "I'm not one to back away from a challenge."

    Just as Amato and Trestman have a good feeling about Burke's prospects in the Red and White, Burke has the same feeling about NC State. In fact, he said his decision to sign with the Pack was more about intangibles than anything else.

    "Really, what I was looking for was a feel," said Burke. "I was looking for a feeling for the place that I was going to go—and I got that at NC State."

    Now, the "complete package" will do his best to put happy feelings in the hearts of his teammates and all of Wolfpack Nation by becoming the on- and off-field leader of the Pack.

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