Sports

Burks boots way to All-USA

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

When Ryan Burks picked up the phone Christmas Eve morning, he was surprised to hear his old Decatur High School principal Jerry Millett on the other end.

“He told me congratulations,” said Burks, a senior at Decatur. “And I said, ‘for what?’”

Millett told the senior on the Gator football team that he was named the first-team punter on the USA Today’s 2003 All-USA high school football team after punting 42 times for 1,937 yards (46.1 yards a kick).

“I didn’t believe him,” Burks said. “I was like, yah, whatever. So I got up and went to the store and got the paper and saw my face in there.”

The appearance on the most prestigious and high-profile All-American high school football team has raised a lot of eyebrows among fans of the Decatur program and others around the state of Washington. Burks was actually the second player from Decatur named All-USA. In 1996, offensive lineman Victor Rogers received first-team billing before attending the University of Colorado and his current place with the Detroit Lions.

To be honest, Burks, at 6 foot, 185 pounds, isn’t the first, second or 10th player you noticed when attending a Decatur football game last fall. As a punter, he is used to getting little or no attention. Burks has grown accustomed to teammates like fellow all-staters Darin Harris and Kyle Bressler getting all the headlines. That just comes with the territory.

Burks just went out and kicked.

“He is just a very nice kid,” said Decatur coach Bill Heglar. “He has no ego and he was a big part of our success.”

Burks has been working on the intricacies of punting and kicking since he was an eighth grader. During his eighth and ninth grade seasons, Burks played for the Federal Way Hawks junior football program instead of his school.

“I didn’t play in junior high because I was scared,” he said.

But it was during that time that Burks started attending kicking camps conducted by Ray Pelfrey. The former Green Bay Packers punter has developed into the guru of developing young punters and kickers and has a lot of influence around the United States.

“He really has all the ins and puts the word out,” Heglar said. “He really helped (Burks) a lot and he kept calling me throughout the season wanting to know what his stats were.”

Burks is still up in the air about what he is going to do next year, as far as college goes. Punters aren’t a hot commodity on the recruiting trail. Coaches are not willing to “waste” a scholarship on a freshman punter — especially with the new limits on the number of full-rides a school can dole out. They would rather have the kid walk-on to the team and earn a scholarship after his sophomore or junior season — if at all.

“We are getting some action on him,” Heglar said. “I think he will be able to get into a school and make a contribution somewhere.”

Burks says he has received interest from schools like the University of Massachusetts, Kansas and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, but he is still undecided. He has also sent a profile and video tape to Keith Gilbertson at Washington. His 46.1 average would have ranked him fourth overall in Division I football during the 2003 season.

“I plan on going to college,” Burks said. “We’ll just see what happens.”

Burks was joined on the All-USA first team by fellow South Puget Sound League South Division mate Aaron Klovas from Bethel. The 300-pound offensive lineman is one of the most recruited players in the country and will be playing in today’s US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. Klovas has narrowed his college choices to Washington State, Oregon, Michigan State and Oklahoma.

Burks and Klovas were the ninth and 10th players from Washington to be named All-USA in the 22 year existence of the team, which was selected by USA Today staff reporter Christopher Lawlor after discussions with sportswriters, coaches and analysts.

All of the players are seniors and were listed in the Dec. 24 edition of the national paper.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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