The name Robert Burke means a lot in the world of Samford football. This is a name sure to evoke the utmost emotion from fans, teammates and coaches. It is a name synonymous with hype, grit and electricity. This is the name of a man who has played his last down of the game he loves, but will forever be a Bulldog.
Robert Burke walked onto the Samford football team as a wide receiver during his freshman year in 2016, without knowing the spectacular journey he was setting forth on or the eternal impact he would have on those he met along the way as well as the impact that the team would have on him. He had hoped to work as a student assistant for the University of Tennessee Volunteers. It was not until his longtime teammate Coutrell Plair was being recruited to Samford that his interest was sparked in the Homewood, Alabama university. Samford’s defensive line coach at the time, Victor Cabral, was at Burke’s high school alma mater, Brentwood Academy, recruiting Plair to play for the Bulldogs. In addition to this, Cabral offered Burke a preferred walk-on spot on the team, his first of many offers to play college football, but the first notion Burke ever received that he was good enough to play for a Division I program. Having played football since the fifth grade, he worked painstakingly hard, day after day to be the star he was in high school.
“It’s a lot sweeter when you have to work for it,” Burke said. “But I wouldn’t change a thing about my story. I just have more work and people to thank for where I am.”
Burke had dreams of being a coach from an early age when he was playing football in middle school. He loved the situational calls and the x’s and o’s of the game.
“I love the way it is more than just routes and tackles,” Burke said. “It’s the calls made off the field for those routes and tackles that lead to wins.”
Burke had an early drive to see the needs of the team during the game and make them happen.
Burke also had an even deeper emotional connection to his childhood coaches off of the field. Growing up with divorced parents, he quickly learned what father figures these men could play in his life. He has memories of these coaches from his childhood along with those he has grown to love and work alongside at Samford and the things they have done for him which infinitely surpass the significance of a football game. Burke looks up to these men and aims to be like them when he is a coach one day.
“I try to have a memory bank of everything they do and say, so that I can make sure I do it when I am a coach,” Burke said. “I have watched my coaches in weird and difficult times do everything exactly right and keep on holding us to such a high standard.”
Now, set to graduate and begin life as a quality control coach for the Bulldogs, Burke is excited to start learning how to help the team in a new way.
“This is my dream that I’ve always had,” Burke said. “Now I’m kind of sad that I get to do it because what I’ve loved for so long is over, but in the best way.”
As his new career in coaching is soon to take off, Burke expressed his extreme gratitude for all those who made him who he is and made his experience as a football player one he will never forget.
“I got to start and thank the man upstairs,” Burke said. “He gave me everything I have and, gosh, he let me play football for this long.
Burke, a family man, also gave credit to those he has been around since a very young age.
“I have to thank my family,” Burke said. “We all get here because of some family above us and mine is definitely my mom— she is my rock. My ride-or-die. She’s the best, and I love her so much. Also, my Grandma, my dad, my step-dad and my stepbrother Jack.”
Lastly, Burke gave credit to his former coaches and teammates who helped him along his football journey.
“I have to thank my coaches anywhere from elementary school, middle school, high school and college,” Burke said. “The cool thing about them is, I don’t think I could pick out a coach who hasn’t helped me off the field as well. They have just been so much more than football coaches for me for so long, and I don’t know what it would be like without them. Last I got to thank my teammates. I mean, my best friends are teammates from high school and college, and I know that even though I am done as a player, those relationships will last a lifetime.”