|Kevin Burke won't be striking
the Heisman pose any time soon, but did receive a vote, which is
rare for a Division III player.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
By Jason Bailey
Mount Union is synonymous with Division III football.
Emphasis on the III.
But that classification didn’t stop Purple Raiders junior quarterback Kevin Burke from receiving a second-place vote for the Heisman Trophy, which was awarded Saturday.
Heisman voter Doug Clarke, who attended the same high school as Burke, said he included Burke on the ballot in part because of concerns about the popular candidates. Although all NCAA players are eligible for the Heisman, only Division I athletes have won the award.
“Why not a Division III kid? No scholarships. He gets good grades. He’s sort of the ideal of what a college athlete is all about,” Clarke said. “I thought, ‘Why not, I am going to step in new territory here.’ He’s certainly got the credentials. I know it’s Division III, but he has electric stats. It seemed to be a good year to do it. There wasn’t any outstanding guy in my mind.”
Clarke gave Florida State sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston, the eventual winner, his first-place vote. He picked Oregon sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota in third place.
The only Division III player to receive notable attention in Heisman voting was Plymouth State running back Joe Dudek, who finished ninth in 1985 after being featured in a Sports Illustrated article (What the Heck, Why Not Dudek?) that encouraged voters to think outside the box.
Clarke certainly did.
“Let’s be honest, I voted for Winston to win the thing,” Clarke said. “So what’s the harm for popping Kevin Burke in there? I thought that would be kind of neat. It would be so neat, so unusual that no one else would do it. It’s not like he’s going to be in New York.”
But his excellent season among his peers is sending Burke to Salem, Va., this week as one of four finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded to the best all-around Division III player. Burke has thrown for 3,351 yards with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions while adding 904 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, and he is second in Division III in passing efficiency.
Most recently, he led Mount Union (14-0) to the Stagg Bowl with a pair of big games: a 62-59 quarterfinal victory over Wesley and a 41-40 semifinal win vs. North Central. Burke is seeking his second consecutive national championship, and he was named to the All-America Third Team after last season’s title run.
Clarke is now retired after a newspaper career mostly in Ohio, most recently writing a column for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. He has owned a Heisman vote for about 30 years and has not been afraid to make unorthodox selections. Last season, he gave Wisconsin running back Montee Ball his first-place vote; Ball didn’t finish among the top 10 vote-getters.
But this is the first time Clarke has voted for a non-Division I player.
“This is just totally subjective on my point,” Clarke said. “But [Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Johnny] Manziel is sort of a punk to me; the Jameis Winston thing sort of got cloudy, although I did vote for him to win it. There was no standout, and also there’s that feeling that somewhere along the line, the Heisman got lost. [It turned into] who is going to be the best pro? Will we be sorry that we gave the Heisman to this guy?”
Biases among Heisman voters are often evident when reviewing the ballots. The 870 votes are divided equally among six geographical regions, and it’s common for regions to skew their votes in favor of local candidates. And Clarke is certainly more familiar with Burke than most.
Decades after Clarke graduated from St. Edward High School, Burke led the Cleveland-area school to a state championship in his senior season but didn’t receive any scholarship offers, according to Clarke, who said other players on the team received interest from Northwestern and Michigan. That 2010 campaign was the last time Clarke has seen Burke play in person, although he has watched three or four Mount Union games a year via television replay.
All that considered, Clarke said he isn’t worried about any media reaction about his selection.
“That didn’t cross my mind at all,” Clarke said. “Hell, what would I care?”
Any attention that Mount Union will receive from Burke’s unexpected Heisman recognition should only strengthen the school’s reputation as a Division III powerhouse. The Purple Raiders have won 11 national titles, have multiple players currently in the NFL, and have had its athletes win the Gagliardi Trophy a record five times. Their trophy case is certainly full.
Thankfully, a Heisman vote shouldn’t take up much space.