Neal Burcham can finally exhale.
On Tuesday, the Greenbrier (Greenbrier, Ark.) senior quarterback committed to Southern Methodist, a program that's become a strong team again thanks in large part to coach June Jones. Burcham picked the Mustangs over Cincinnati, Arkansas State and Central Arkansas.
Yet for a while, there weren’t any offers for the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder despite having passed for a combined 6,290 yards and 65 touchdowns his sophomore and junior seasons. Finally, in June, Burcham picked up an offer from Central Arkansas.
But that was far from his biggest accomplishment over the summer. In July, he proved he belonged among the nation’s top quarterbacks by snagging co-MVP honors at the Elite 11 finals, the country’s premier high school quarterback competition. At Elite 11, Burcham earned plenty of praise from Elite 11 coach and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title, and he also gained a ton of confidence.
Burcham brought that confidence with him into his senior season and it showed as he threw for 42 touchdowns in 10 regular season games, including a state-record tying eight against Siloam Springs (Siloam Springs, Ark.). Now rated the nation’s No. 20 quarterback by ESPNU, Burcham hopes he can continue to showcase his talents at SMU.
With his college decision behind him, Burcham took a few minutes to reflect on his whirlwind senior season. Last week, Burcham and the Panthers lost to Vilonia (Vilonia, Ark.) in the regular season finale, a game Burcham had to leave early after injuring his right knee.
According to Greenbrier athletic director Stephen Wood and Greenbrier football coach Randy Tribble, Burcham will have an MRI on the knee today and the results won't be known until Tuesday.
"I'm pretty nervous about it," says Burcham.
If healthy, Burcham will lead the Panthers against Arkadelphia (Arkadelphia, Ark.) in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs this weekend.
Get Familiar with this strong-armed signal-caller.
ESPNHS: What was it like getting your first scholarship offer?
Burcham: It was a good feeling because I was waiting and waiting, seeing what was going to happen. I had a big smile on my face. I wasn’t nervous about not getting a scholarship because I knew it was going to work out. I knew who I was, and I just had to go out there and get better every day.
ESPNHS: What led you to pick SMU?
Burcham: It was a combination of things. After I went on my official visit a couple of weeks ago, I took some time to think and pray about it. I couldn’t find a negative about the whole visit. The offense definitely helps, and I felt comfortable on the campus. It just all came together. It lifted a little stress off my back.
ESPNHS: What was your reaction to getting invited to Elite 11?
Burcham: I was humbled. When I got the call, I was in awe because I didn’t expect to make it. When I got there, I kind of checked it out to see how it was. I had heard of all of the big names that were there, and now I was sitting with them. I took it as that I could make the same throws as them and it gave me a lot of confidence. It’s not like they’re superheroes or anything. You can’t get caught up in it.
ESPNHS: How did it feel to win MVP?
Burcham: It was pretty awesome. I was super excited. It just gave me that confidence that I could compete. I went from being surprised I made it (to this). When I got home, they all knew I was named MVP. I got a bunch of texts and congratulations. It was cool. And the day I got back is when I got my second offer, from Arkansas State.
ESPNHS: What was it like having Trent Dilfer praise you?
Burcham: The first day there he told me that he believed in me. That gave me energy and confidence. A guy like that believing in me — that meant a lot to me.
ESPNHS: How would you describe how this year has gone for you?
Burcham: This year is one I’ll remember for a long time. My coaches and teammates have supported me. It definitely feels good. I didn’t know if I’d ever be in this position. But everything happens for a reason, and I feel like this has been meant to be.
School: Greenbrier (Greenbrier, Ark.)
TV Show: “SportsCenter”
Movie: “Remember the Titans”
Actor: Will Smith
Athlete: LeBron James
School Subject: Math
Team: Dallas Cowboys
Video Game: “NCAA Football”
NEXT UP: Burcham and Greenbrier open the Class 5A state playoffs this week against Arkadelphia (Arkadelphia, Ark.).
Jon Mahoney covers football for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHIGHSCHOOL.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know which high school football player he should Get Familiar with.