|Staff photo by Tom Kelly IV/ Adam Burke of West Chester Rustin leads the area with 19 total touchdowns this season.|
By NATE HECKENBERGER
The art of finding the end zone is one of those intangible talents that not every running back is born with.
Adam Burke of West Chester Rustin is fortunate to be one of the blessed ones.
Heading into week seven, Burke has scored more touchdowns (19) this season than the offenses of eight other local teams -- Avon Grove, Bishop Shanahan, Downingtown West, Malvern Prep, Octorara, Oxford, Unionville and West Chester East.
Sixteen of those TDs have come on the ground, and for Burke, it’s a matter of mentality.
“When we get down to the goal line we’re hungry to score,” said the senior Golden Knight running back. “Obviously I’m the goal-line back and I’m glad to help the team finish drives. When you get to the goal line it gets really physical, and we like that. We like to be physical and punch it in.”
In five of the six games, Burke has cashed in three times on the ground. Not coincidentally, the only game he didn’t -- a one-score effort against Unionville -- the Golden Knights lost. Rustin coach Mike St. Clair has not been one to shy away from stacking stats with his most trusted back when he finds one.
“Adam has a good nose for the goal line and he has real strong legs,” St. Clair said. “He has a good sense of getting to the end zone and he doesn’t fumble much. We have a lot of confidence with him getting in.”
More than in years past, Rustin has been susceptible to the big play defensively. With only two returning starters to begin the year, St. Clair has stuck to the same recipe of success by playing clock-controlling offense to help manage games.
Burke has been the biggest beneficiary, with 472 rushing yards, good for seventh in the area. He has also caught eight passes for 128 yards and three scores. After having almost his entire junior season stolen by back ailments, the added load this year hasn’t been a problem.
“First and foremost, the offensive line has been blocking great all year,” Burke said. “All of the other backs have done a great job blocking for me. There’s always been great backs to run the ball at Rustin, and it’s just my turn to step in. I look forward to keeping the tradition.”
What’s almost becoming another tradition for the Golden Knights is beating West Chester Henderson, tonight’s opponent. They have won the past five meetings, including one in the 2010 playoffs.
With hopes of a fifth straight Ches-Mont American Division championship riding on a hiccup or two by Unionville, continuing its run against Henderson is top priority for Rustin.
“No matter what the situation is, the Henderson game is always big and we always want to beat them,” Burke said. “It’s the biggest game of the season.”
And Burke will be at the forefront of the attack. Though the names have changed on the offense, the wing-T scheme has not, and Rustin continues to run its sweeps and powers and waggles with tremendous success.
Tight wins over Kennett and Great Valley the past two weeks have the Golden Knights at 5-1 once again, and positioned fifth in the current Class AAAA District 1 playoff standings. A win against the Warriors would go a long way to securing a first-round home game.
Burke believes the best of the 2012 Golden Knights has yet to be seen.
“As a team we’re getting more comfortable,” Burke said. “We’re good, but we still haven’t reached our potential. Every game gets bigger and bigger, and I still think we have a long way to go.”
How far Rustin actually does go could determine where Burke finishes in the record books. Rondell White scored 30 touchdowns in 2008 when he led the Golden Knights to the state semifinals.
Burke is currently on pace to break that by the end of the regular season. While Burke’s path to becoming one of the area’s best backs looks a little different than White’s, this year’s version of the backfield might cause a few flashbacks to just before Rustin evolved into a dominant team.
Right now Burke is playing the part of Steve Hess, a gritty back who helped the Golden Knights to their first-ever Class 3A playoff appearance in 2007. That same year, White was a change-of-pace sophomore wing back who showed glimpses of his future greatness.
What White was to Hess, Terry Loper is to Burke this fall. Loper, a sophomore who broke out with 111 yards against Kennett, is the key component to Rustin repeating its cycle. And he garnered some serious praise from St. Clair.
“He reminds me more of Fred Maldanado, when I was over at (West Chester) East,” St. Clair. “I think he’s more like him than Rondell. I think if he keeps working hard, he can be a premier back.”
For now, Loper learns the ropes. And what better example than Burke, who’s put in his time and is sowing his harvest, one touchdown at a time. Is there a better way to learn what can’t really be taught than to just witness it?