Quarterback Burke helps make Leechburg’s high-scoring offense go

Saturday, September 25, 2021 | 6:46 PM

Thomas Burke is in a lead role for one of the higher-octane offenses in the WPIAL.

Leechburg leads Class A in points at 46 per game. The Blue Devils hit 41 in a victory over Eastern Conference rival Springdale on Friday.

Burke, a senior in his first year at quarterback for the Blue Devils, is leading the charge with his arm and his legs.

On Friday, Burke threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns, the first of which came on a flea-flicker to a wide open Logan Kline for 55 yards on the first play from scrimmage. He added a 13-yard rushing score.

Over the past two games, Burke has totaled 688 passing yards and six touchdowns. The Blue Devils, now 4-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play, hope to stay focused for a Jeannette team attempting to rebound from a 1-4 start.

“I knew going into the season that we would have a team that could put points on the board, play good defense and win some games,” Burke said. “I felt we were going to shock a lot of people. We still have a long way to go, and we have to be ready for Jeannette this week, but we’ve all worked so well together so far.”

In five games, Burke is 58 of 99 passing for 1,175 yards and 10 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Burke said he trusts those around him, from the reliable receiving targets led by Kline, senior Eli Rich, junior Tyler Foley and freshman Jayden Floyd to the offensive line fronted by the likes of senior center and anchor Tino DeCapite and senior right tackle Jacob Reinke and the rushing complement of junior Braylan Lovelace.

Foley had four catches for 144 yards and a touchdown against Springdale, and Rich added three catches for 67 yards and a score.

“We sometimes stay after practice to work on timing routes and everything else,” Burke said. “Every time I throw the ball, I have confidence they are going to catch it. They make me look good.

“The offensive line guys works their butts off in practice, and it shows in our games. They take pride in being able to protect me and open holes for Braylan.”

Burke’s presence this year also has been felt on defense. He opened the scoring against Brentwood on Sept. 10 with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.

The Blue Devils topped the Spartans, 50-20.

Burke got his first taste of starting varsity experience as a sophomore in 2019 at Kiski Area. He played in four games.

Burke went to Leechburg from kindergarten to sixth grade, so when he made the transition back to Leechburg after his sophomore year, the move was smooth.

“I already knew everybody,” Burke said. “All of my friends supported me. Everyone had my back.”

Burke made an immediate impact on both sides of the ball last year under first-year head coach Randy Walters.

He served as a dual threat in the run and pass games and was a stalwart in the secondary in a 2020 campaign tinged with covid unpredictability.

The Blue Devils went 3-4 and came within a heartbeat of their first winning season since 1991.

“We got through it because we had each other’s backs,” Burke said. “We would tell each other to just play football and have fun.

“Coach Walters told me that I would play both sides of the ball, and I told him that I didn’t care where I played. I just wanted to do whatever was best to help the team win football games.”

As the backup quarterback last year to multi-year starter Dylan Cook, Burke took a few snaps in the season opener against Greensburg Central Catholic, a 55-37 victory.

Burke said his connection with Cook helped give him a boost into the role he takes on today.

“Coming into the season, I knew what I had to do and who’s shoes I was filling,” said Burke who gained physical and mental knowledge of the quarterback spot over the summer from seven-on-seven games with both Leechburg and his PA Nike Elite club team. He also got a chance to show his stuff at camps at Duquesne, the Naval Academy and Penn.

“Right after the last game last year, Dylan and I started talking,” he said. “We text and talk almost every day. Right before Jefferson-Morgan (a 69-16 season-opening win Aug. 27), I was really nervous. He said to me, ‘Tommy, you’re a great quarterback. Just go out and play football and trust everyone around you.’ That meant the world to me. He gives me a lot of motivation.”

Burke was an efficient 7 of 10 passing for 136 yards and two touchdowns. He added six rushing attempts for 49 yards and a score as the Blue Devils collected 481 yards of total offense.

“There was such a rush of adrenaline for me and everyone on the team,” he said. “Braylan made some great runs, the offensive line came out strong and the defense shut things down and had a few interceptions. The whole team played great. It was a great start to the season.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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