John Clay

Ex-Knight Burke could be answer

LOUISVILLE — It's been a tough cycle for Louisville of late, what with the Rick Pitino extortion mess, losing top basketball recruit Fab Melo to Syracuse, and, oh yeah, the city's flood last week.

Ordinarily, you would say, cheer up 'Ville, it's football season.

But after two years of the 11-13 Steve Kragthopre Era, which included a five-game losing streak to end the 2008 campaign, well, maybe not so much.

Truth is, Louisville desperately needs something to turn the bad vibes to good.

Could this be where Justin Burke steps in?

"There's question marks, quarterback position and the (offensive) line, nobody thinks we can do anything," Burke said on Saturday's at Louisville's annual Football Media Day. "But I really believe that this team has a lot in it."

You remember Justin Burke? He's the 6-foot-3, 229-pound quarterback who just happened to throw 62 touchdown passes his senior year at Lexington Catholic on his way to becoming the state's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2005.

Burke shipped off to North Carolina State to play for Chuck Amato and was redshirted. Then Amato got fired. In came new coach Tom O'Brien. And Burke became an afterthought.

"Coach O'Brien's staff, I loved them when they had recruited me to go to Boston College," said Burke of O'Brien's days at Chestnut Hill before re-locating to Raleigh. "So it was a great situation, but frankly I wasn't ready. I didn't do a good job myself, and then the next year I got lost in the fold a little bit. I didn't really seize the opportunity."

Burke played three games as a redshirt freshman at N.C. State in 2007, threw three passes, and decided he'd be happier closer to home. He arrived at Louisville last August, his teammates "really took me in," and now a year later he has another opportunity to seize.

"It's like a job interview every day out there," he said.

See, Burke isn't the starter. No, not yet, and he may not be. He's in a two-man competition with Adam Froman, a 6-4, 227-pound junior college transfer from Santa Rosa, Calif.

They are both juniors, friends, golfing buddies, and, yes, competitors. Both possess a different skill-set. Burke is a drop-back passer. Froman will tuck the ball and run.

Here's another difference: Burke has been through this before.

"Hard to believe, but this is my fourth camp and my fourth different offensive coordinator," he said, what with Kragthorpe taking over the play-calling duties this year. "But I feel like having been here last year, and in the spring, I'm starting at step two instead of step one."

He's a an analytical person, anyway. Teammates have stuck the "mathlete" tag on Burke for his problem-solving skills. "I'm quite a nerd," said the quarterback.

"He's a very bright guy," said Kragthorpe. "He'll graduate in three days with his undergraduate degree and be in the graduate school in Business this fall. He's a very cerebral guy. He processes information extremely quick."

But, assures Burke, "I can make all the throws."

He didn't say it boastful. Not at all. He knows he's in a battle, that Froman could win the job. ("This is my fourth camp, and every year the quarterback job is up in the air," said Burke.) He knows that the Louisville offense has talent at the skill positions. It needs its quarterback to come through.

He wants to be that quarterback.

"I've grown up so much in the last year-and-a-half, two years," Burke said. "You learn a ton about yourself when you go through turmoil, more than if you're happy-go-lucky all-the-time and things are going well. You learn more about yourself when things are going wrong."

Sounds like the 'Ville.