By Jean DePlacido
---- — Ever since Austin Prep senior Ryan Burke was a first grader, he has known he wanted a career in the Army. The Topsfield resident was appointed to West Point by former senator Scott Brown and a couple of weeks ago he committed.
“It came down to the final day trying to decide between West Point and Vanderbilt,” said the Cougars’ football tri-captain, who is also a black belt in karate. “I had a full ROTC scholarship to Vanderbilt, and I had talked to their (ROTC) Commanders. I gave it serious consideration.
“When I was in the first grade we had a project writing thank you letters to veterans in our town. They were all great people, and I knew I wanted to be just like them. When I was playing Masco Youth Football my coach Tom Mathers brought the whole team to West Point where he had gone. We played against a local football team in Michie Stadium, and that made me even more determined to go there one day.”
Mathers’ son Tucker, who played a big role on the St. John’s Prep Super Bowl team last fall, was a teammate of Burke’s all through youth football. Burke played fullback and defensive end for Austin Prep, but over his career also saw action at running back, tight end, safety, and lineman. He started playing when he was in the fourth grade and knows he will miss football next year.
“Last summer I went to an event at West Point for recruits, and all the football players were giants,” he said. “I knew I was not going to be able to play at that level, but all the cadets have to do some athletic activity. I’ll join one of the several martial arts teams they have. I’ve also always wanted to get into fencing so I may take that up.
“When I first started playing football I wasn’t very good, but after getting into karate in the sixth grade I got stronger which helped me be a better player. Karate is my true passion. I played lacrosse at the JV level, but I only did it to improve my cardio and running for football.”
Burke is also an outstanding student with a 4.7 weighted GPA, taking five advanced classes this year. He is excited about the challenge that lies ahead. His older brother Collin was a basketball captain at Masco and also a wide receiver on the Super Bowl football team. He now plays football at Bowdoin.
“I wouldn’t have the same kind of training in an ROTC program at Vanderbilt that I’ll get at West Point,” he said. “I will be leading a military life style, and if I keep my grades up will have a choice (of special areas) when I graduate. As an officer you are in a leadership position whatever you choose. Intelligence is a great field, and infantry is really popular. I like armor too, because you get to drive cool tanks.”