Prep football

Burch a big-play threat on both sides of the ball for Wheeler

2013-10-24T17:00:00Z 2013-10-25T01:33:05Z Burch a big-play threat on both sides of the ball for WheelerJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
October 24, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

When Kyle Burch intercepted a pass last week against Calumet, the Wheeler senior tied the school's season record for pickoffs.

Not bad for an ex-lineman.

"I've always been strong for my size," Burch said. "My dad (John)'s always been into working out and it transferred to me. I've been lifting since I was 13. In eighth grade, they needed someone (to play line), so they put me there. We double-teamed all the time. I knew I wasn't destined to be an offensive lineman."

All of 130 pounds at the time, Burch was a guard on offense and an end on defense for the Union Township Middle School team. But his days in the trenches were short-lived. Burch was moved to linebacker as a freshman. It wasn't until last year that he played safety, where he first made his name.

"He's a true free safety," Wheeler coach Tony Klimczak said. "He plays the middle of the field. He diagnoses things well. He breaks on the ball fast. He's got a good first move, nice anticipation. He's a hard hitter."

Burch saw special teams time as a sophomore, when the Bearcats won the sectional. The mass graduation of talent opened the door for Burch in 2012 and he quickly acclimated to his new spot, earning defensive player of the year honors.

"I'm taking it a lot more seriously," he said. "I got in the weight room and gained 30 pounds. (Safety)'s not too much different than going into my pass drop. I like to be behind the line. I can see everything. I get a lot of opportunities to come up and make big plays, big hits. I'm not afraid to make a stick, to meet a guy in the hole."

Up to 170 pounds and 10 starts under his belt, Burch has continued to excel in the secondary, registering 69 tackles to go with his interceptions.

"I've got a lot more experience," he said. "My instincts are a lot better. I'm a lot better at reading the quarterback and receivers."

Slowed by a hamstring pull early on, Burch has also blown up lately on the other side of the ball, catching four touchdown passes in the last two weeks. He's also a perimeter threat in the running game, averaging over 13 yards a touch, most of them coming on jet sweeps.

"Now that he's 100 percent healthy, he's really been a pretty dangerous threat," Klimczak said. "He's very fast."

Burch has a hand-timed 4.46 in the 40-yard dash and has made a marked difference in Wheeler's passing game. It's no coincidence the Bearcats (5-4) have won four in a row.

"They're looking to me more," he said. "The line's doing better in pass protection, which lets Riley (Smith) throw the ball. We made a couple position changes. We're meshing a lot better as a team. Once we won the first game, we've had a better attitude and have just kept rolling."

Wheeler hosts Boone Grove tonight in a Class 2A Sectional 33 opener, a rematch of Week 1, when the Wolves won 27-7.

"We're all really excited to play Boone Grove again," Burch said. "We feel we're gonna beat 'em this time."

With the Bearcats' next loss, Burch's playing days will be done. He has no plans to play football in college, where he'll go to a bigger school and major in nutrition.

"I don't really think a lot about it being my last game," Burch said. "Obviously, I want to go as far as possible my senior year. I'm just enjoying the moment and I'll reflect on it later."

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