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Inside Ethan Burke’s journey from lacrosse superstar to breakout DE

Three commitments. Two sports. One final decision. Budding star sophomore Ethan Burke has a story more unusual than most. And after wrecking havoc in the last two games, Burke is poised to be the next stud pass rusher for Texas.

Louisiana Monroe v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

For Texas Longhorns edge rusher Ethan Burke, the path to suiting up in burnt orange has been more improbable than most. With a short history in organized football, deep roots in lacrosse, and moves across the country, the 6’6 Austin Westlake product could have gone down numerous different routes. Instead, one phone call changed it all.

Texas Spring Football Game Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

As a senior in English class in December 2021, Burke’s phone rang. He quickly excused himself from class and answered. At the time, few could have predicted that less than two years later, the conversation in the hallway outside his classroom would kick start a journey that currently sees Burke tied for the most sacks for the No. 4-ranked college football team in the country, much less that the team would be the Longhorns.

The call? It came from Texas quarterbacks coach AJ Milwee, who extended a scholarship offer to join the Texas recruiting class on the day before the early signing period started.

Yet, at the time, playing football in college was still something Burke was deciding about. The lanky edge rusher comes from a lacrosse family and for most of high school had aspirations to cradle the egg in college rather than bring down quarterbacks.

Burke’s father, Zack, is one of the most well-known high school lacrosse coaches in the country. The elder Burke was a captain of the No. 1-ranked high school in the country and eventually went on to play in college before a four-year stint in professional lacrosse with the Philadelphia Wings. After his playing days, Burke made his way into coaching, where he’s won multiple Coach of the Year awards in both California and Texas.

For Longhorn fans, many may not have even realized that Burke was committed to play college lacrosse at one point much less how dominant he was in the sport. Burke’s athleticism, physicality, and understanding of the game were recognized by college coaches around the country.

It’s not entirely unheard of for lacrosse players to dabble in other sports such as football or basketball. This past offseason, former No. 1 overall high school lacrosse player Ricky Miezen decided to pick up the stick again for UVA after spending five seasons playing inside linebacker for Stanford University. So while it isn’t unheard of, few players have the ability to play both at an elite level, much less be offered scholarships in both sports.

For Burke, becoming a two-sport star was never the plan. During his rise to stardom in lacrosse, Burke also quietly began playing football as a freshman in San Diego. The beginning of his football career was concurrent with a move to Austin and football powerhouse Westlake. During August of 2018, Burke’s freshman year, his dad accepted the job as Youth Director and Head Coach for Westlake.

After the move to Westlake, Burke settled into a consistent grind that set him up for a wild ride between the worlds of lacrosse and football.

In September of 2020, his junior fall of high school, Burke committed to play lacrosse for the Maryland Terrapins, a top lacrosse program in the state Burke grew up in.

From 2011 to 2022, the Terrapins appeared in seven of 12 national championships and hoisted the trophy twice — Burke was heading back east to play for one of the premier programs in the country.

In addition to the scholarship, Burke was recognized with countless honors for his play including Central Texas All-State, U.S. Lacrosse All-American, and Under Armour All American.

At the same time, just two years after picking up football and moving to Central Texas, Burke began to make a name for himself on the gridiron. Although the talented defensive end was somewhat new to the game, people began to take notice of his potential.

Unfortunately, heading into his junior year, Burke suffered a collarbone injury in the Under Armour All-American lacrosse game that held him out for the first half of football season, but that didn’t stop him from making plays in key games when he came back.

Burke recorded two sacks and two pressures in the state title game to help Westlake win the game and finish the season 14-0. The quarterback he was disrupting? Texas starter Quinn Ewers.

During Burke’s senior season, he remained committed to play lacrosse for Maryland while putting up video game numbers at defensive end. His stats included 14 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 19 pressures, three forced fumbles, one interception, nine passes defended, and a blocked punt, earning District 26-6A Defensive MVP and once against helping the Chaps go undefeated and win the state championship.

This performance put Burke on the radar of many coaching staffs and he received numerous offers to play football.

However, it wasn’t until midway through his senior season that he decided he wanted to play college football. With that choice and his on-field performance, Burke decommitted from Maryland to accept a dual-sport scholarship from Michigan for both football and lacrosse.

But exactly two weeks later Burke received the phone call from Milwee with an offer. After discussing the offer with then-Westlake head coach Todd Dodge, who played quarterback at Texas, Burke accepted the offer and signed his National Letter of Intent the following day without having ever set foot on campus as a recruit.

With his commitment to Texas, Burke joined his high school teammate Connor Robertson, but also hung up his lacrosse stick in favor of chasing quarterbacks full time.

Since arriving on the Forty Acres, Burke has benefitted greatly from more reps on the field and time in the weight room. Currently listed at 6’6 and 257 pounds, Burke has grown significantly into his frame — lacrosse recruiting websites listed Burke at a meager 220 pounds during his senior year.

Texas v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The improved frame obviously benefits Burke on the field, but speaks to the character and work effort he possess, two traits that Longhorn coaches and players have been raving about since he arrived on the Forty Acres.

On Monday, senior linebacker Jaylen Ford praised Burke’s work ethic this offseason.

“Burke did a good job of just doing the extra work to put himself over top, knowing his weaknesses and he improved on a lot of it and I’m really proud,” Ford said.

Ford also spoke about how Burke will improve more with time.

“From last year to this year, it’s just experience, honestly. Just for him to get out there and get a feel for the game. This offseason was huge for him. He got comfortable. He earned his role. He earned a spot and it kind of just catapulted.”

Burke’s growth trajectory is one that many Longhorn fans will be excited about. With more time in the weight room and a tailored nutrition plan, Burke’s physical abilities project to grow in every area. In addition, when thinking about how little football experience he has under his belt compared to others, getting reps in practice and games will be huge drivers.

Sarkisian spoke to Burke’s potential with high words of praise before the season.

“Blue collar, man, he’s a blue-collar guy,” Sarkisian said in preseason camp. “I think he has great length, but at the end of the day, the guy’s a mechanic. He goes to work, he rolls his sleeves up, he doesn’t mind getting grimy. He’s always going to find an edge somewhere and he’s got good wits about him — he knows how to play the game.”

On Saturday against Alabama, Burke showed what the upside for him could potentially look like. He flashed in the backfield and recorded four solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack.

On Burke’s sack, he lined up against Alabama’s 6’7, 355-pound left tackle Kadyn Proctor on 2nd and 10 from the 25-yard line with a little under 14 minutes left in the game. Burke started in a four-point stance and exploded off the ball, using his speed to rush past Proctor with a clear shot at Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe. Proctor did all he could to stop Burke, but even dragging him down by the jersey wasn’t enough as Burke fought through the obvious holding and pulled Milroe down by the back leg for a huge sack to set up third and long.

After the game, Sarkisian praised the play of Burke against Bama.

“Our ability to create chaos was huge. Ethan Burke had a tremendous game,” Sarkisian said.

Currently, Burke is leading the team in tackles for loss and tied for the most sacks. His play has been a bright spot in a Buck end position group that came in with some questions before the season.

As Burke garners more attention from opposing offensive lines, he’ll need to continue developing his skillset as a pass rusher and run stopper. But with so much raw talent, physical upside, and room to get more comfortable in the sport as a whole, his potential is sky high. Let’s just hope the itch to play lacrosse doesn’t come back.

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