Rex Burkhead of the New England Patriots - Origin Stories #SBLIII Edition
February 03, 2019
When you’re 5’10”, it’s safe to say your chances of making it to the NFL are better than making it to the NBA. Yet that didn’t stop Rex Burkhead from displaying his talents in both sports while at Plano Senior High in Plano, Texas.
When you watch Burkhead on the field rushing for two touchdowns for the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, it may be surprising to hear he won a state championship in basketball but not football. The ring came as a freshman where he played a reserve role, but he still earned first-team all-district honors as a junior and senior playing backcourt for the Wildcats.
Since Texas is fondly known for the lights of friday nights, it’s easy to miss that the talent pool in DFW goes beyond football. The University Interscholastic League class 5A is as competitive on the court as it is on the field.
Still, it was crystal clear that football was Rex Burkhead’s future.
People had already started to notice the potential he had long before varsity. Years earlier, at 4 years old, the story goes that he ran onto a field and tried to tackle a running back more than twice his age in a game his dad was coaching.
“I wasn't old enough to play yet, but I wanted to be out there so bad," Burkhead is on record saying. "My dad had to discipline me, but he was kind of smiling."
The talent was evident as Burkhead succeeded at every level, from dominating in pee-wee leagues to playing multiple positions for Schimelpfenig Middle School.
Rushing for 1,762 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior, Burkhead was selected as The Dallas Morning News’ All-Area Offensive Player of the Year. At the time, some of the area’s playoff games took place at Texas Stadium (R.I.P.). The state semi-final at the home of the Cowboys is the where Burkhead’s best high school season would end his junior year.
In summer of 2017, the Bleacher Report created a point scoring system to determine which state produced the most football talent.
Texas won, y’all.
While the notables players include Heisman winners Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, two-time Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck and defensive beast Vonn Miller, none of those guys helped their teams reach Super Bowl LIII.
Several of Burkhead’s fellow Texans on the Patriots stayed in-state to play collegiately: Marcus Cannon (TCU), Josh Gordon (Baylor), Malcom Brown (Texas) and Elandon Roberts (Houston). Burkhead, however, took his talents to Nebraska. Unfortunately, after a promising junior year, he injured his knee and had a disappointing senior season.
What wasn’t disappointing was the relationship Rex had with Jack Hoffman, a 7-year old cancer patient. In 2013, though Rex had finished as a Husker, he helped get young Jack a carry in Nebraska’s spring game.
Jack took that carry 69 yards to the house against one of the best defenses the blackshirts have ever had in the history of the spring game. There were no flags on the play, either for too many men on the field or excessive celebration. It truly was a special moment.
Through Team Jack, a foundation that helps fund research for pediatric cancer, Burkhead puts on a gala in Nebraska and the Team Jack Trifecta! in Texas, comprised of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, a youth football camp and a 5K run. Team Jack is what Burkhead represented for the NFL’s MyCauseMyCleats campaign.
Though he is still battling, Jack was able to attend the playoff game against the Chiefs.
“You see how fragile a life is and seeing what these kids battle through and how they continue to fight just really gives you a whole new perspective." - Rex Burkhead
Journey to the NFL
Burkhead was an under-rated underdog going into the draft.
After the NFL combine, the scouting report graded him at a D. His 40-yard dash was below average at 4.73 seconds but he was a top performer in the jumps and the agility drills. Described as a slasher with lateral quickness, there was never a question about his toughness, though his size limited him in the passing game both as a receiver and a blocker. Burkhead was projected to be a solid reserve back capable of contributing in a committee and on special teams.
But odds don’t account for high-motor or high-character. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 6th round where he played out his rookie contract and earned the respect of the city and the league. Since entering free agency, he is now on his second deal with the Patriots.
His current coach, Bill Belichick, had positive things to say about him when asked on Super Bowl media day, “Going back to Nebraska, Rex was a good football player, versatile guy, could run, catch, tough, he played in the kicking game, he did all those things for Cincinnati in varying degrees, more offensively in that last season than some of the other seasons because of the depth they had at that position, he’s done all that for us, played on all four downs, very productive, running, catching, kicking game, tough, good football player.”
A neck injury early in the season caused him to miss some games, but he was activated off the IR just in time to make an impact, including the game-winner in overtime.
“Anytime you’re able to put the one in the endzone to help a team out, you’re excited,” he said on the Today show.
For the humble Burkhead, opportunity has knocked, and it hasn’t had to pick locks.
Jaydon McCullough, his head coach at Plano, is proud of his former player. “He’s such a well-rounded person and has really developed in every area of his life. I’m proud of him, and I know he has a lot more that he’s looking to accomplish, and I look forward to watching him.”
Once a wildcat, always a wildcat.