Mark Story

Family fighting blue bloodlines to support Burke

The 16th modern renewal of the Kentucky-Louisville football rivalry is expected to feature a historic milestone.

When Justin Burke begins under center, it will be only the second time in the history of The Governor's Cup series that a product of Lexington has started at quarterback in our state's marquee college football game. And this time it's for Louisville.

Which makes for a rather interesting dynamic for the family of the former Lexington Catholic star.

Jennifer Burke, the quarterback's mother, travels often in her job as a partner in the accounting firm Crowe Horwath. This past week, she was in Boston. This coming week, she'll have at least two days in Charleston, W.Va.

"One of the pluses of my job, I'll be out of town and away from the hype," she says.

Greg Burke, Justin's father, has no such reprieve. He's retired. So he keeps hearing the same words over and over.

"All our friends are saying the same thing," says Greg Burke. "They say 'I hope Justin throws for 300 yards and Kentucky wins the game.' And we understand that totally."

The UK-U of L rivalry has always been complicated for the Burke family.

Greg grew up in Louisville, played football at St. Xavier and has long been an avid backer of the Cardinals.

Jennifer's family comes from the Paintsville area. When she was a little girl, her dad, Thomas Frazier, would keep score while listening to Cawood Ledford call the Kentucky Wildcats games over the radio.

Greg and Jennifer met as students at Morehead State. Once married and living in Lexington, the Burkes became regular attendees at UK home football games.

When the opponent was U of L, Greg would go decked out in red and black.

Jennifer would show up wearing blue and white right down to her shoe laces.

"Two days a year, the day of the football game and the day of the basketball game, the UK-U of L rivalry made us a mixed marriage," Jennifer jokes.

Now, the presence of the oldest of the Burkes' two sons as the starting quarterback at Louisville has made for quite the dilemma for Jennifer's Wildcat-loving side of the family.

Nathan Burke, Justin's little brother and a freshman at Lexington Catholic, says the family experienced a first recently.

With Justin's debut at Louisville on the horizon, Thomas Frazier, the quarterback's maternal grandfather, recently did something he had never done in his entire life.

"He put on a Louisville hat," Nathan said. "We couldn't believe it."

A tougher nut to crack has been Jennifer's younger brother, Matthew Frazier.

"I'm a UK fan through and through," Matthew says. He has traditionally been so anti-Louisville, he says that he has never worn a red shirt.

"And I never will," Matthew said.

(Justin is actually two years older than his uncle; when they were little, Burke called the younger child "Baby Uncle Matthew").

So when his nephew takes the field at Commonwealth Stadium, Matthew, a UK sophomore, will be in the Kentucky student section.

"I'll be rooting for Kentucky to win," Matthew said.

But ...

"He's more torn than he's letting on," Jennifer says of her brother.

Which is true. "This is his big start, I really, really want Justin to play well," Frazier said.


"But I can't root for Louisville against Kentucky, I just can't," he says.

As for the guy who put his mother's side of the family in such a pickle, Justin Burke says he grew up "like Switzerland" when it came to Kentucky's defining college sports rivalry.

"I watched the Kentucky games; I watched the Louisville games," he said. "I wanted both to do well, but I wasn't any kind of super fan of either team."

At Lexington Catholic, Burke became one of the most prolific passers in Kentucky high school history. He had a streak of 37 straight games with a touchdown pass.

As a senior in 2005, he threw for a whopping 62 touchdowns and 3,789 yards. More importantly, he led the Knights to the 3A state championship — the school's first.

UK offered him a scholarship. U of L offered him a scholarship.

But Burke cast his lot with North Carolina State.

"I really liked Marc Trestman, the offensive coordinator," Burke said. "The school fit me academically. N.C. State just felt right."

Until it didn't.

Burke redshirted his freshman year. After that 2006 season, the head coach who had recruited him, Chuck Amato, was fired.

Under new head man Tom O'Brien in 2007, Burke got into only three games. He decided to transfer home.

"UK didn't show an interest then," Burke says, "and U of L did."

This fall, Burke, a 6-foot-3, 229-pound junior, won a four-man quarterback competition to be the Louisville starter.

In the season opener against Indiana State — his first extensive playing time since his days at Catholic — a hyped-up Burke misfired on all but one of his first eight passes.

He settled down and went 16-for-23 the remainder of the game, but the slow start in the passing attack helped set the tone in Louisville's sloppy 30-10 win.

Now, Burke, who has already earned an accounting degree and has started work on a master's in business administration, comes back to Lexington to face his hometown school.

When he looks across the line of scrimmage Saturday, he'll see a former high school teammate, Winston Guy, at free safety for Kentucky.

Even with those circumstances, Burke says he won't be too geeked up at the start of this game.

"In the Indiana State game, I learned where I need to be emotionally to play effectively," Burke said. "The 'hometown thing,' I won't be coming home to stay in our house. I'll be in a hotel with the team. It's a business trip to Lexington."

For the Lexington family of the Louisville quarterback, the game — and the week leading up to it — figure to be a little more complex than that.

For the first time in her life, Jennifer Burke will be in Commonwealth Stadium pulling for the opponent of Kentucky. Says the mom of the Louisville quarterback: "We are so keyed up now, we may burst before Saturday."