Kevin Burke has never viewed himself as a 9-to-5 job kind of guy.
The 26-year-old Westlake native has football in his blood, and he’s fashioned the sport he began playing for fun at age 5 into a multifaceted career that has taken him across the ocean and back again.
Still an active player at the ready for a professional opportunity, Burke has spent the last four years as an assistant on the staffs of his alma mater, the University of Mount Union, and, currently, Case Western Reserve University, coaching running backs and quarterbacks. While not in season, he’s spent the last year working with young signal-callers at Avon’s T3 Performance Center.
While he was busy winning a Division I state championship as the quarterback at St. Edward High School, and later cementing himself as one of the best offensive players to ever wear a Mount Union jersey, he wasn’t picturing a coaching future. Nowadays, he can’t see one without it.
“It’s not something I envisioned doing (when I was younger),” the Brooklyn resident said. “But it’s definitely going to be what I do as a career, and I’m really excited about it.”
At T3, he can be found working through drills with young quarterbacks, studying film with them or simply imparting the many tricks that he’s learned in 20 years of playing the sport. Later this summer he’ll reconvene with the football team at CWRU, where he’ll enter his second season as the quarterbacks coach and continue to mentor incoming sophomore Drew Saxton, who threw for over 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns in 10 games as a freshman and earned numerous awards.
“(Coaching) is something that I’ve really taken on and strived to do because I’ve been around the block in terms of football,” Burke said. “I really owe it to a lot of the people that really helped me out to help out the younger kids and show them what I know from 20 years of playing the sport and my own trial-and-error type of information. I owe it to the kids who want to get better and really want to learn.”
That trial-and-error learning, as well as a decorated college career, has provided Burke with a lifetime of football experiences packed into a short span. First, he led St. Edward to a 15-0 season and a state title as a senior in 2010, then he chose to continue his career at Mount Union, where he piled up records and awards.
Before graduating in 2014, the dual-threat won two Gagliardi trophies — the Division III equivalent of the Heisman — was a three-time Associated Press Little All-America selection, and was one of only two Purple Raiders quarterbacks ever to surpass 12,000 career passing yards while also setting the program record for quarterback rushing yards. As a senior, he threw for 4,412 yards and 52 touchdowns in 15 games. In three years as a full-time starter, his teams reached the Stagg Bowl — the Division III national title game — each time, winning it in 2012.
After college he caught on with the U.S. national team, helping it to a gold medal in 2015 at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championships, held in Canton. In October 2016, he was signed by the Dacia Vienna Vikings of the Austrian Football League, and a championship followed in the spring of 2017. In all, Burke spent two seasons in Vienna and one with the Bern Grizzlies of the Swiss pro league, before signing with the Memphis Express of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football for a week earlier this year.
The AAF stint was short, but the European experience was one Burke will remember fondly forever.
“Overall, you don’t do it to get rich or necessarily further your playing career,” he said. “You do it for different reasons, like the traveling. And a lot of the people I met over there are going to be lifelong friends, so it was an awesome experience.”
Soccer remains king in Europe, but the American version of football has developed a cult following, which Burke experienced firsthand.
“The degree (of fandom) is different, but you get fans that are really passionate about it,” he said. “They follow the transactions; they want to see the teams play on the weekends and talk to the players any chance they get. It was really cool to be a part of that, having people watching your every move and wanting the best for you (and the team) was a cool feeling.”
Though coaching has increasingly become a focus of his football career, the prolific passer with a full passport still has the itch to play. Europe still may be an option, as the season concludes in time for him to continue at CWRU. And the 2020 return of World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon’s XFL could provide a landing spot stateside, should Burke earn a tryout.
The new XFL will be composed of eight teams, initially, and games will be televised nationally on Fox Sports and ESPN networks.
“I’ve always been a person to go with the flow, and I’m definitely going to stick around and coach at Case as long as I can,” Burke said. “I want to play, but the situation’s got to be right. I got the chance to play in the Alliance of American Football this past spring, and it was a great experience, and I’m sad that it folded because it looked like it had a lot of success in the future…If a situation like that comes again I’ll definitely jump at it. The XFL is definitely something I’ll be considering, and if I get the opportunity to play there, I can’t see myself saying no.”
Burke’s love of the game runs deeply enough that he remains open to anything, on the sidelines or in between them. It’s the same game he fell in love with as a grade-schooler, playing pick-up with his family on the grass field behind St. Bernadette school in Westlake, and later flag and, finally, tackle.
Kevin Burke was never meant for a cubicle, sitting behind a stack of paperwork. Football is what drives him.
“I love playing football,” he said. “It’s a kid’s game and I’m a kid at heart, so I’m going to try and play for as long as I can.”
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