High School Sports Awards: Michigan football phenom Josh Burnham steadfastly humble, hungry

·4 min read

Josh Burnham racked up a myriad of accolades during his tenure at Traverse City Central (MI) High School, garnering plaudits for stellar play on both sides of the ball as a quarterback and linebacker. But those who know the University of Notre Dame-bound standout best point to humility and motivation to compete as driving forces.

Burnham wrapped up his senior campaign by helping the Trojans to the 2021 Michigan High School Association D2 state championship game, leading Traverse City Central High School to a 12-game winning streak along the way, while also earning a spot on the Michigan Division 1-2 All-State football team.

The 2021 Michigan Gatorade Football Player of the Year ran for 1,515 yards and 29 touchdowns while passing for 963 yards to pair with 14 touchdowns. Defensively, Burnham posted 76 total tackles, 50 solo stops, 12.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups and two interceptions. He is also a member of the 2021-22 All-USA TODAY HSSA Defensive Football Team.

"He's hungry and humble at the same time," Traverse City Central High School Head Football Coach Eric Schugars said in listing some of Burnham's attributes. "He expresses humility amazingly for the amount of attention he's received over the last couple of years - and certainly prior to that. It's never about him. He has a quiet demeanor, but when he gets on the football field, he plays with a physicality and a passion. That's that hunger. You see him wanting to compete and play at a high level."

Traverse City Central High School's Josh Burnham (#8) is a member of the 2021-22 All-USA TODAY HSSA Defensive Football Team.
Traverse City Central High School's Josh Burnham (#8) is a member of the 2021-22 All-USA TODAY HSSA Defensive Football Team.

Burnham said he enjoys navigating under the radar.

"People really don't recognize me in public, because I'm not the type of person that goes around talking and having the big head," he said. "I like to stay low to the ground. I don't do trash talking or any of that stuff. I help pull guys away when that type of stuff happens. I enjoy displaying sportsmanship, putting the team first and having that love for the game."

The seed that fostered Burnham's fondness for the gridiron was planted in second grade.

"I was just running around with pads and fell in love with it," he said. "It was just natural when I started. I was always bigger, faster and stronger than other kids at that level, so I really had fun with it. I played running back in middle school and once I got to high school I switched to quarterback. I just fell in love with the game and always wanted to go out and throw the ball with my friends and family."

Burnham said he cherishes the lifelong bonds and community pride fostered while donning the Traverse City Central High School Black and Gold.

"Playing with my brothers from Pop Warner through high school - it's special," he said. "Just having those connections and relationships with my teammates and coaches is among the things I've enjoyed most about the sport. And to be able to go out each week and play in front of the community is something I will never forget. We have the Patriot Game, where we play against our crosstown rival, Traverse City West, and our whole stadium is packed with 12,000 people. That was one of the highlights - being able to go out there and play in that game one last time."

Josh Burnham helped propel Traverse City Central High School to a 12-game winning streak during his senior campaign and earned a spot on the Michigan Division 1-2 All-State football team.
Josh Burnham helped propel Traverse City Central High School to a 12-game winning streak during his senior campaign and earned a spot on the Michigan Division 1-2 All-State football team.

Focusing on the team work ethic, bonding and finding ways to face adversity are among the key takeaways Burnham has found to be pivotal amid competing in the sport.

"Those were some of the main things we focused on as a program," he said. "When you hit the wall, how are you going to bounce back? If you just got scored on, what are you going to do on the next drive to make sure you get into the end zone? What are you going to do to stop the other team? You've got to trust the guys to your left and right to do their jobs while you do yours. That's when the magic happens."

Schugars said football, like any other sport, offers challenges. He commended Burnham and his teammates for rising to meet them.

"There are a lot of challenging moments - in the weight room, at practice - and we need that for young people today," he said. "Football teaches discipline and responsibility. RALI is our core values mantra. Reject passivity, Accept responsibility, Lead courageously and Invest in others. We hang our hat on those things and apply them in our daily actions. There's value in every person and everyone can bring something to the football team."

Traverse City Central High School's Josh Burnham (#8) will continue his academic and athletic pursuits at the University of Notre Dame.
Traverse City Central High School's Josh Burnham (#8) will continue his academic and athletic pursuits at the University of Notre Dame.

Burnham is presently on Notre Dame's South Bend, Indiana, campus as an early enrollee.

"We went up (to Notre Dame) on our own and literally walked on campus to get a feel for it." he said. "It just hit me as soon as I stepped on campus. I knew that was the place for me - the academics, a place where I'm treated like family and somewhat close to home, so family would be able to go. I'm excited about the future."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Josh Burnham is a premier high school football talent

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