Bryan Station High School standout Jalen Burbage signed his letter of intent to play at Lehigh University on Wednesday, but his father Cornell Burbage seemed to enjoy the moment more than anyone.
Cornell, who starred alongside Dermontti Dawson at Bryan Station before playing at the University of Kentucky and in the NFL in the late 1980’s, had the camera on his smart phone rolling for the entirety of a joint signing ceremony for his son and A.J. Smith, another standout Defender who committed to Thomas More College.
“It’s a whole lot better as a parent, but it was more nerve-wracking,” Cornell said. “When I was a player, I didn’t think about it but as a player it’s like, ‘He’s working his tail off and this is his biggest reward,’ but people didn’t see the hard work that he actually put in. ... It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. It’s one of the best feelings ever, to be a parent and have a child ready to go play Division I football, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
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Jalen committed to the University of Cincinnati in December after developing a rapport with Joker Phillips, the former UK head coach who was then coaching wide receivers for the Bearcats. Phillips left UC for a job on the University of Maryland coaching staff in January, and Jalen re-opened his recruitment soon thereafter, just weeks before National Signing Day.
Lehigh had a scholarship with his name on it ready to go almost immediately, in part thanks to a couple of newly-minted assistants — Anthony DiMichele and Charlie Noonan — who’d recruited Jalen while they were both at Holy Cross in the fall and stayed in touch with him and the staff at Bryan Station.
“Once (Joker) left, everything just changed,” Jalen said. “ ... (Lehigh) is one of the top FCS programs for football and they’re really great in academics. I just thought it’d be the perfect fit.”
Lehigh is located in Bethlehem, Penn., and plays in the Patriot League. It won the Division II national championship in 1977 and has played in I-AA/FCS playoffs 11 times, including back-to-back appearances in 2016 and 2017. The school’s average GPA is 3.82 and average ACT score is 30. Jalen plans to study engineering.
“Football don’t last forever,” Cornell said. “At Lehigh, the academics are unbelievable. I mean, that school costs 60-some thousand dollars. So if he doesn’t make it to the next level, once he graduates, there’s gonna be ton of opportunities for him.”
Jalen was a first-team All-City selection last year. He rushed for 1,097 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior, and in his career had more than 2,500 rushing yards and threw for more than 4,600 yards. Jalen, who also plays basketball and runs for the Defenders’ track-and-field team, was one of more than 43 Lexington high school students recognized with a “Triple Threat Award” by the KHSAA last year.
“We try to do our best to develop kids,” said Defenders Coach Frank Parks, whose program has produced five Division I players over the last four seasons. “We don’t have no big-time, five-star recruits in here. We have a lot of kids come through here who are willing to work, believe in the process, take the coaching staff seriously and continue to grow year in and year out.”