GROWN UP in Greenbrier

“I’ve grown up as a quarterback,” said Burcham, still 6-3 but hoping to be up to 190 pounds by the season opener — an increase of 20 pounds since last year.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot more of the offense. I’ve become close with the coaches, and I understand what they want from me as well as the players, what they expect.

“It’s been a year of progressing and coming closer to everyone around me.”

Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble agreed.

“Physically, he’s improved himself and gotten stronger,” he said. “He’s put on 15 pounds of muscle, and I think he’s going to be at another level from last year.

Now part of that is the receivers coming through as well as the team around you, but physically, he is better.

“He’s a sharp kid. He threw the ball real well in spring ball and in 7-on-7 (this summer). I think by the end of the summer, he’ll be ready to go, and he’ll be a better player than last year.”

With the increased weight and strength, Burcham said he could tell the velocity of his passes had improved as well.

“I can tell I’ve got a lot more zip on it,” he said.

And the improvement isn’t all physical.

He’s grown into his leadership role as well. While he earned the respect of the upperclassmen last fall by leading by example — staying after practice to work on his passing, putting in extra time to study film and being involved in Bible study — this time, the underclassmen come in already admiring him.

“It’s different coming in as a junior,” Burcham said. “It’s a little different knowing the sophomores are the new ones now and I’m the one who’s had a year of experience. It’s better to know that. I feel more comfortable and confident.”

He wasted little time relaxing after school was out. Instead, he dove quickly and deeply into Razorback football camp, 7-on-7 team competition and team basketball camps at Harding and Greenbrier. He’s the Panthers’ point guard after football season ends.

A summer day off was rare, but he’ll be sufficiently rested by the time the season begins.

After June, his schedule was to relax a bit.

“The hard part’s over,” he said during mid-June. “So far I haven’t had much free time, but I guess there’s not much I’d rather be doing than playing basketball or football, besides maybe sleeping in every once in a while.”

He’s in the minority today in that he excels in two sports, but Tribble said he thought that worked to his advantage.

“He makes everybody on the basketball team better by the way he sees the court and gets the ball to the right guy, and he does the same thing in football,” Tribble said. “I think his vision is the big thing. The vision that everybody’s always talked about him having on the basketball court – being a great passer, anticipating things – it’s real.

“As soon as we started working with him (in football), we could see he had some natural tools there, especially the vision. He sees things happening before they really happen, and as soon as he understood our passing game, you could tell he was going to be a good one.”

Tribble called Burcham’s sophomore stats “amazing” for a player in the 5A-West.

“That says a lot about him and his great sense of awareness on the field of where people are,” he said.

He also has the intangibles.

“He’s just a really sharp kid,” Tribble said. “He’s got a great family; he’s been raised real well. He’s an all-American kid — respectful, a good student. As a football player, he picks things up so fast. He’s got things now you hope kids develop.”

Burcham’s family moved to Greenbrier from Valley Springs when he was in third grade. Valley Springs didn’t have football, so he had to be talked into playing peewee football at his new school.

There, he found another love.

Todd Langrell, Greenbrier’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, is a cousin of Burcham’s father. Langrell knew of the youth’s basketball prowess and hand-eye coordination, so he suggested he play quarterback as a seventh grader, before Tribble’s arrival.

Langrell quickly became a believer.

“He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever coached,” he said. “I think he’s going to be big-time. I really do.”

But football may not win out over the long term. Burcham said he would play both sports through high school and then make a decision as to which to pursue afterward.

“I think what’s going to decide is how these next two seasons go,” he said.

But at least for this time of year, it’s all football.

During his eighth grade season, Greenbrier’s junior high team went 9-1. During his freshman season, the junior Panthers were 10-0 and defended their conference championship.

As he prepared for his sophomore season, the senior high Panthers had won just one game the previous two years.

“We came in not really expecting to do what we did,” he said. “The teams we played were thinking, ‘Oh, this is Greenbrier,’ so they were a little underestimating us. This year will be different. We’ll have to come in with the attitude that we’re one of the top dogs now. We’ve got a big target on our chests, so we have to come in a little more prepared, ready to play and knowing that teams aren’t going to be underestimating us.”

The playoff experience will be another plus. Greenbrier, which finished runner-up in the 5A-West, had last reached the playoffs in the mid-1990s.

“You look at the teams like Greenwood, Pulaski Academy, that repeatedly make it, and they have that mentality that they’re going to win, and when you do that in consecutive years, it gives you motivation and confidence to keep doing it,” Burcham said.

He likes the challenge of being a top dog this fall.

“Oh, definitely,” he said.