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Burcham nearly chose football over running

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 12:17 AM

ONA -- Thanks to a phone call from Shane Carter, Jacob Burcham would settle on track as a career instead of football or soccer.

When Burcham was in the sixth grade at Barboursville Middle School, Carter called Burcham and asked him to run sprints for the Pirates.

"I wanted to be an NFL player," Burcham said Friday when he signed a letter of intent to continue his track and cross country career at Oklahoma. "Coach (Carter) called and asked me to run sprints in track. I trained and did well in the 400." Track would help Burcham's speed for football.

Enter Pat Riley, who also coached track at Barboursville Middle at the time. He moved Burcham to distance running and in the seventh grade, Burcham ran a 4:59 in the 1600.

"I don't think I knew what I was doing," Burcham said. "He got me to stick with it."

Good move as Burcham has dominated running locally, in West Virginia, nationally and internationally, to a point, since making the switch. He's the high school record holder in the 800, 1600 and 3200 along with cross country in West Virginia. He set an all-time state record last June when he ran a 4:02.73 in the Grand Prix Dream Mile in New York.

Burcham, a senior, will receive the 2012 Ray McCoy Award on May 5 at the 67th Victory Awards Dinner in Clarksburg. The award goes to the outstanding male track and field athlete. It's named after legendary Huntington High coach Ray McCoy and it's the third straight year Burcham has won the award. He finished runner-up to West Virginia football star Tavon Austin in voting for the Amateur Athlete of the Year honor.

That explains why the Cabell Midland auditorium was filled with students, family, friends and media who watched Burcham make his college decision official at the signing ceremony. That event also was streamed live on the Internet.

Renee Burcham, Jacob's mother, remembers that call from Carter.

"That was a changing point for Jacob," she said. "He always thought about football. When he got on the track, they saw something special."

Thanks to her son, Renee also is into running.

"I couldn't go past a block," she said. "I do 5Ks and I've done a half-marathon. Jacob's my inspiration."

After Renee's talk, Burcham's father, Mike, said a few words.

"We did not push him," he said, again drawing a laugh. "We encouraged him."

At Oklahoma, Burcham will be teammates with Brandon Doughty and Eric Graff, two former competitors in West Virginia.

Burcham went through a litany of thank yous. When he got around to talking about his college choice, he started by saying, "Let me talk about Ohio State." That got a big laugh. Ohio State was one of the schools he considered.

Since ninth grade, Burcham's been under the watchful eye of Cabell Midland cross country and track coach Chris Parsons.

"I couldn't ask for a better coach," Burcham said.

Parsons has been coaching track since 1975.

"No one's come close to what he's done and he's got a spring to go," Parsons said.

Cabell Midland's track season starts in late March and ends with the West Virginia High School Championships in mid-May at Laidley Field in Charleston.

Parsons said he's still getting phone calls/e-mails even though Burcham has made his college decision.

"Meet directors want him as a marquee runner," he said.

Parsons said it's tough to put into words what Burcham's done for track at Cabell Midland, in West Virginia and nationally.

"He's raised the level of our guys," he said. "We compete on a national level. Runners in the state have stepped it up. We've got some phenomenal runners here. His resume is so impressive."

Parsons has been coach at Cabell Midland since 1994 when the school opened.

"No one who's come through here has done or come close to what he's done on the level he's done it," Parsons said. "He's a natural. We might never seen one like him again. He's the greatest distance runner I've witnessed in West Virginia."

Jack DeFazio, athletic director at Cabell Midland, called the signing Friday a special occasion. Burcham's the eighth Cabell Midland athlete to sign a Division I scholarship this school year.

"Anytime an athlete gets to move on to the next level it's an honor for the school and community," DeFazio said.

As a freshman, Burcham split time in the fall between football and cross country. He focused on track and cross country only the next three years. In addition to football, Burcham excelled in soccer. DeFazio once coached that sport at Cabell Midland.

"He broke my heart when he decided he wouldn't play soccer anymore," DeFazio said. "But he's the kind of athlete you know who would do well in whatever sport he chose."

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