Back in Texas, football is serious business. Forget the fancy stuff. Forget the hype. Just go out there and do your talking on the field.
For the last seven years, Jimmy Burke has lived in that land of hype, Southern California. But his Texas roots aren't tough to detect.
On the eve of the biggest game of his football career, Woodbridge High School's starting inside linebacker and fullback--who moved from Houston to Irvine in 1980--wasn't indulging in any excess verbiage.
"We're just trying to stay positive," Burke said. "We've got to give a team effort."
Burke won't exactly dominate a conversation. Unless that conversation happens to be carrying a football.
He may be uncomfortable in the spotlight, but tonight the eyes of the Chaminade High School offense will be focused on Burke, when Chaminade and Woodbridge take the field in the Desert-Mountain conference championship game (Irvine High School, 7:30 p.m.). In particular, Eagle fullback Tim Lavin, who is averaging more than 130 yards per game, will be looking out for Burke, who is 6-feet 2-inches tall and weighs 190 pounds.
Last week, Burke--averaging nine solo tackles a game--was the main reason Atascadero fullback Chad Dubrul managed only 65 rushing yards, about half his average. Burke, 17, is considered the mainstay of the Warriors' defense.
"Jimmy's the glue in the middle," Woodbridge Coach Gene Noji said. "He has the ability to always be in the right place. He's a very economical player . . . there's no wasted motion."
There are no wasted words, either. The first thing teammates and coaches say to describe Burke is "quiet" or "soft-spoken."
"He just goes out there and does his job," said teammate Derrick Odum, who has played with Burke since Junior All-American days. "He doesn't have much to say, and he's not real loud or emotional on the field, either. But no one on the team is really like that."
In that way, Burke, a senior, is the perfect example of a Woodbridge player. The Warriors are a team lacking superstars or big talkers. No Gastineau-like sack dances or moon-walking interception celebrations for Burke and the rest of the defense. They just swarm to the ball the way they do over and over again in practice drills, stopping the ballcarrier.
Woodbridge has allowed just 8.5 points per game and has shut out five opponents, including Atascadero and St. Genevieve in the playoffs.
"Burke is the key to their whole defense," Trabuco Hills Coach Jim Barnett said. Barnett tried to tailor his offense away from Burke, but the Mustangs still became one of Woodbridge's shutout victims, losing 23-0.
Barnett voted for Burke for defensive player of the Pacific Coast League. Though Pete Schmitt of Laguna Beach received the award, Burke was named to the all-league first defensive team.
"I thought he was the dominating player in the league," Barnett said. "He's not huge, but he's big and strong. I wish I had him on our team."
Burke, who also wrestles and is a baseball pitcher and outfielder, is the second member of his family to play at Woodbridge in the school's short varsity football history. His brother Kevin, who graduated in 1982, was quarterback on the first Woodbridge varsity team.
"His brother's the total opposite," Odum said. "He talks all the time."
Sure, the stereotypical quarterback. The younger Burke, on the other hand, is more of a workhorse. At fullback, Burke has rushed for 207 yards in 51 carries. But his main role has been that of blocking for tailback John Rios (1,054 yards in 173 carries).
But when Rios teases Burke about not getting to carry the ball much, Burke just shrugs.
"John's a good back," Burke said. "He deserves the yardage."
Besides, it's on defense where Burke gets to shine.
"At linebacker you're right in the middle of the action all the time," he said. "You can change the momentum of a game."
Despite Burke's outstanding year, Noji is concerned that he might be overlooked by college scouts.
"He doesn't always look spectacular," Noji said. "And some guys are quicker. But no one has a faster diagnosis of a play. And if some other guy is out of position, Jimmy is right there."
Burke has been noticed by some colleges, including Nevada Las Vegas, Vanderbilt and Utah.
Oh, and West Point. Perhaps the perfect place for a nice, soft-spoken young man who just goes out there and does his job.
And slams his opponent to the ground.
DESERT-MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE FINAL