PSU keeping eye on 2014 LB Burke

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Tyler Burke stood near the sideline, watching his breath and waiting for his Coatesville, Pa., team to hear its cue to run on the field one last time this season, in the state title game.

Before the muffled PA announcer mentioned the 2014 linebacker or the Red Raiders, a familiar face caught Burke's eye in the corner of the end zone. He looked for a moment or two at the tall man standing in a blue coat -- a Penn State coat -- and realized it was linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior wasn't surprised.

"Well, he's been to, like, every playoff game," Burke said with a smile. "I wasn't nervous. It's just pretty much another person watching anymore."

Vanderlinden planted his feet in the end zone for a while and then trudged up into the bleachers to watch from a better vantage point, in the open-air extension to the press box. The coach couldn't say at whom he was looking, obviously, but it was pretty clear his eyes were following Burke.

Two of Coatesville's fumbles were returned for touchdowns in just the first quarter, and Burke's team fell in surprising fashion, 63-28. But that doesn't mean Burke struggled.

The lanky linebacker -- a player his coach initially thought might play QB until he gained 60 pounds and boasted the same speed -- darted past offensive linemen, overpowered some blockers and finished with an official count of 17 solo tackles, two assisted stops and two fumble recoveries.

To put that into perspective, those numbers mean Burke made a solo stop on more than 26 percent of North Allegheny's offensive plays. Twenty six percent. It was nearly twice as many as the No. 2 tackler over the weekend, which involved seven other teams.

"Well, I hope I showed him that I won't give up," Burke said, when asked about Vanderlinden. "I'll keep playing hard and just keep trying hard, just keep trying."

He just earned his learner's permit in July, but his own motor and ability has already caught the eye of schools from across the country. Stanford visited his school a week ago, and he's already hearing from the likes of Washington, Notre Dame and Pitt. He holds offers from Maryland, N.C. State and Temple.

He stood by his helmet after the game Saturday night, looking mostly stone-faced until his walk back to the bus. That black helmet was littered with "C" stickers, each one signifying a brutal hit or exemplary play.

"You have any room left for another sticker there?" someone asked.

"I really don't," he said with a laugh.

He keeps an envelope with about 20 stickers inside his home, simply because he has nowhere left to put them. His helmet stood out from his teammates' because it was so full of those stickers.

And, on Saturday, his performance stood out. He's only hoping more schools and coaches take notice.

"I'm pretty interested in Penn State," he said. "They're close to home and obviously, with the stuff going on, they did good this year -- so they'll definitely be up there. I want to be closer to home and it's like a three-hour drive from my house, so it's not bad.

"I guess he's just evaluating me right now. ... Hopefully it'll be heating up after this."