When the Texas Longhorns release the depth chart for the season opener against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks next week, the biggest surprise may be freshman defensive end Ethan Burke after head coach Steve Sarkisian revealed on Thursday that Burke has made the two deep.
One of five defensive ends signed in the 2022 recruiting class by the Longhorns, Burke is a summer enrollee out of Austin Westlake and one of four players competing for playing time at the Buck end position behind starter Ovie Oghoufo, including redshirt sophomore Prince Dorbah and redshirt freshman DJ Harris.
Burke first surfaced on the radar as a potential contributor this season when he was named a breakout candidate by sophomore tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders last week.
“He’s definitely physical at the point of attack,” Sanders said. “Yesterday in practice he got me for sure. I was not expecting that from him... He’s a big guy, too, and him being able to move that well and being so strong definitely makes him a great player.”
After Texas struggled pressuring opposing quarterbacks last season, Burke’s ability off the edge could help him make an impact sooner than expected.
“Ethan has been just a welcomed addition to the team,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a guy who was not here in spring, got here in the summer. He’s got a lot of length. He’s got natural rush ability, very tough-minded kid.”
And while Burke is still in the early stages of his growth trajectory, the fact that he’s already competing for playing time makes him one of the early standouts in his class.
“When he’s in there, he does some really positive things, so we’re encouraged by him. I think the beauty for Ethan is he’s got a lot of room for growth. I think his best days are ahead of him, but he’s definitely made an impact,” Sarkisian said.
A 6’7, 234-pounder, Burke was en elite lacrosse player in high school who didn’t start gaining recruiting attention in football until his senior season after missing part of his junior year with a collarbone injury suffered playing lacrosse.
In early October, Air Force and Army both offered Burke, who then picked up offers from Utah, Baylor, Texas Tech, Michigan, and Nebraska over the next seven weeks. Kansas State offered after hosting Burke for an official visit in November, but the Austin Westlake product ultimately committed to Michigan following an official visit to Ann Arbor.
When Texas entered the picture just before the early signing period, however, Burke made the decision to stay close to home and signed with the Longhorns as a surprise addition to Sarkisian’s class.
As a senior, Burke recorded 58 tackles, including 40 solo, 14 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 19 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles, one interception, nine passes defended, and one blocked punt.
A consensus four-star prospect ranked as the No. 389 player nationally and the No. 30 edge, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Burke spent the offseason trying to add weight to his long, rangy frame to hold up in the trenches and now has enough mass and strength to ensure he’s not a one-dimensional pass rusher.
But it was in the pass rush that Burke truly excelled in high school, flashing high-level first-step quickness off the ball, often surging into the backfield before opposing tackles could even get into their pass sets, and showing a strong understanding of how to read quarterbacks in order to knock down passes. In addition to Burke’s explosiveness, his long arms helped ensure that he could strike first with his hands while pass rushing or defending the run — even at the college level, Burke’s length will pose problems for opponents.
Burke does still need to continue adding strength and he’ll have to develop a deeper arsenal of pass-rushing moves than simply his speed rush and a spin move he used at times, but he may have the best snap get-off on the Texas roster and looks poised contribute much more quickly than expected.