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Trojans' Burk signs to play college football for Franklin

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New Castle High School senior Gage Burk recently signed a letter of intent to play football for Franklin College starting this fall. In the front row, left to right, are father Paul Burk, Gage Burk, and mother Melissa Burk. In the back row, left to right, are Bob Witham, NCHS Football Head Coach Kyle York, NCHS Football Assistant Coach Thanh Nguyen, and Anthony Turner.
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New Castle running back Gage Burk (34) moves upfield for yardage with a Greenwood defender attempting to bring him down and the Trojans’ Tytus Ragle (6) trying to run interference during the football sectional opener last Oct. 19. Burk also served as the Trojans’ punter and has signed a letter of intent to play football for Franklin College beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

The New Castle High School football program is developing a pipeline to Franklin College as another one of its senior players has committed to play the gridiron sport for the Grizzlies.

The latest Trojan to do so is Gage Burk, who recently inked a letter of intent to play for NCAA Division III Franklin, joining a bevy of his teammates and former teammates who also are taking that path.

“The football coach staff at Franklin is one of the best I’ve ever met,” Burk explained as one of his reasons for choosing Franklin. “It’s also an amazing college academically that has really good programs, it is close to home, and a lot of my buddies are going there. It just seemed to be a really good fit for me.”

Burk is an intelligent young man who realizes he must prepare for a career after his playing days are over.

“I really haven’t decided what my major is year,” Burk remarked. “Perhaps it might be business, but I want to get into pharmaceutical sales representing one of the major companies and sell diabetic supplies.”

New Castle football head Coach Kyle York is happy that another one of his players has chosen Franklin to continue his education and play the sport of football.

“I think we have enough guys from here playing football down there that it would pay to hire a bus so that people from here can go down and see them play,” York remarked. “But seriously, Gage has made a really good choice. Coach Leonard and his staff have a tradition of bringing quality people who are talented athletes into their program, and Gage fits that description.”

York has little doubt that Burk will have a successful career at Franklin, both in football and academically.

“You won’t find many kids better than Gage Burk,” York said. “He comes from a really good home, he’s talented athletically, can get up and down the field, he’s intelligent and good at academics, and he’s mature. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble prioritizing his time while he’s at Franklin.”

Football is Burk’s only sport at NCHS, but he has seen action on the varsity ever since he was a freshman, when he appeared in one game in 2015, ran the ball once for three yards, was in on two tackles, and punted one time for 27 yards.

Burk played a little larger role on the varsity his sophomore season in 2016. He appeared in all 10 games, had 18 tackles (10 solo), had one kickoff return of eight yards, and punted nine times for 238 yards (longest 46 yards) for an average of 26.4 yards per punt (ypp).

The 2017 season was a joyous one for Burk and his Trojan teammates, as they played for a New Castle team that had its first winning season in 33 years at 6-5 under new Head Coach Kyle York.

Burk was involved three different ways for the Trojans during that season. In New Castle’s “basketball on grass” offense, Burk played in all 11 games and was a running back who provided pass protection for quarterback Niah Williamson in the record-setting year, but did carry the pigskin 35 times for 139 yards (a 4.0 ypc average) and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 29 yards.

On defense, Burk made 31 tackles (16 solo). He also was the team’s primary punter, although he shared those duties with Williamson. Burk punted 17 times for 628 yards (36.9 ypp), 48 yards was his longest, and he placed the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line on eight of those 17 kicks.

As a senior last fall, Burk carried the ball more with quarterback Drew Barber under center. During the 2018 season, Burk carried the ball 110 times for 559 yards (a 5.1 ypc average) and four touchdowns. He also provided pass protection when Barber went back to pass.

He made one tackle and was the team’s primary punter again, although sharing that duty with Barber. Burk punted 11 times for 434 yards (a 39.5 ypp average) with one of 54 yards as his longest, and place two of those kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“We didn’t use Gage as much as we could have in our offense his last two years,” York noted, “but he came through when he did get the ball and his statistics back that up. He was a good teammate and was willing to do anything we asked of him.”

Burk’s punting prowess his senior season was one reason Franklin College was interested in his services.

“I played primarily running back and punted in high school,” Burk stated. “To be the starter at running back as a freshman takes a lot of hard work and normally you have to pay your dues, so it probably isn’t likely I’ll be the starter as a freshman. But Franklin is in need of a punter, and the coaches told me if I work hard over the summer and come into fall practice prepared, I could be the starting punter. That’s what I hope to do.”

If that happens, both of the Grizzlies’ primary kickers will be former Trojans, as Carter Brown (Class of 2018) is Franklin’s placekicker and started as a freshman during the 2018 season.

York mentioned that Burk shouldn’t shortchange his other football abilities just to punt.

“Gage has the ability to do a lot of things well on the football field,” York stated, “and he should be open to playing on special teams, offense, defense, anywhere that Franklin may want to use him.

York talked about the facets of being a good college punter, something that Burk aspires to.

“Obviously leg strength, accuracy, distance, hang time, and the ability to place the ball deep in the opponent’s territory with no return are important aspects of being a good college punter,” York mentioned. “But a couple other things are just as important, which are the speed getting the ball from the snapper to the punter and then the amount of time it takes the punter to get off the kick. Things are much quicker at the collegiate level.”

Off the football field, Burk was on the Trojan cheerleading team and served as the Trojan Warrior during the 2018-19 boys basketball season.

“It was fun being the Trojan Warrior,” Burk noted. “I got to ride along with the team and hang out with some of my buddies. Sometimes the opposing fans would get on me, particularly some of the students, but you just take it in stride. I’m glad I got a chance to be the Warrior my senior year.”

Burk hasn’t been idle regarding football since the season ended in the sectional last Oct. 19.

“I’ve been doing a lot of punting, running, and some weightlifting to stay in shape and get stronger,” Burk added. “I haven’t been given a formal workout program yet, but I plan to attend both of their camps before practice starts and do anything to increase my chances of playing time down there this coming fall.”