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It all started with Denzel Washington.
Well, sort of.
After seeing the football biopic Remember the Titans—a film starring Washington as the main character—as a child, Evan Blake Burkhead became hooked on football.
“That movie was one of the first times I remember really being exposed to the game,” Burkhead said. “I started watching football a lot after seeing it.”
Playing sports was something that Burkhead was introduced to early on in his life, whether it was outdoor sports like hunting and fishing or team games like basketball and baseball (which he played for three and two years, respectively, in high school).
But with football, there was just something different.
“Football brings you together more as a family than any other sport I’ve played,” Burkhead said. “I’ve put more time into football than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life. There’s just so much to it.”
Burkhead doesn’t know exactly why football is like that, but he thinks that some of the bonding is a result of the team’s “hard and hot practices” in the sun.
“What makes you a family is doing all that practicing together, sweating, shedding blood together,” Burkhead said. “It ain’t always easy, but I think that’s what brings you together.”
While he discovered football at an early age, it wasn’t until he got into his first high school football game that he really learned what it was all about.
In a game during his freshman year against Shawnee, Burkhead entered the contest and soon afterward caught his first varsity pass. But when he started to run, he tripped over his own feet. Burkhead believes that his gaffe wasn’t a result of first-game jitters but “just ‘cause my feet was uncoordinated, I reckon.”
But that’s not to say he wasn’t nervous when he first stepped on the field.
“I’d never played in a high school football game, and I’d never really played in front of a big crowd before,” Burkhead said. “When everybody’s watching you, it kind of makes you nervous. I kind of felt stupid after I fell down.”
Although he logged his first varsity action as a freshman, it wasn’t until his sophomore year that he began playing regularly. And it wasn’t until his junior season that he began to start on offense.
Then, this past season, Burkhead finally became a starter on both sides of the ball.
Head Coach Eric Sagrecy credits this development to Burkhead’s selflessness.
“He’s a team-first player,” Sagrecy said. “I’ve always enjoyed coaching guys who are always about what can they can do to help the team, who never complained about playing time or touches.”
Burkhead believes that his speed (he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash last season) was a big part of what enabled him to start at both cornerback and wide receiver last season.
But his off-the-field personality trait of being “a little hot-tempered” came in handy as well.
“My temper made me play more aggressive when I needed to be,” Burkhead said. “I was always hyped up before every game, and that helped me a lot, I think.”
Now that Burkhead’s football career at WCHS is over, he has considered going to a technical school to focus on welding, but none of his post-graduation plans are set at this point.
But regardless of his decision, he will certainly reminisce about his times playing football, the game he first saw on the silver screen so long ago.
“I’m just gonna miss playing the game,” Burkhead said, “miss practicing, miss just being around all my teammates, all my friends. I’m just gonna miss it all, really.”